Pony Therapy

From a young age, Steve Benes knew he liked ponies.
Every summer when he would visit relatives, their neighbors would bring ponies over for him to ride, and those were always happy memories for him. He didn’t know what the future would hold for him, but he knew someday he wanted one of his own.
His wife, Debbie, grew up with horses, so when they got married, they bought a farm in the Jackson area and purchased some. That was in 1985.
About 10 years ago, Benes bought his first pony. He brought it home and put it in the barn, but the next day, when he walked past the stall, he noticed something was different. His pony had a baby. From that time on, he was hooked.
Currently, Benes has seven ponies, as well as several horses. It’s not something he does to make money.
“It’s sort of like therapy,” he said. “I sit out with them and play with them. I just really enjoy it.”
The most recent addition to the Benes pony family was born on June 23. “Spitfire,” who lives up to her name, was the smallest pony Benes had ever seen. She measured a total of 17 inches tall, and was full of life. She has a curly mane, and likes to be scratched and petted like a dog.
For Benes, who also has a construction business, and his wife, who works in Jackson, the ponies are more of a hobby. Benes even has one of the youngest ponies trained to shake hands and to give kisses.
While the ponies bring a lot of joy to the family, there have been a few hardships this year. Two of the females lost their babies, which is always hard to take, Benes said. The ponies become more like pets than livestock, he said, so those losses are painful.
Another issue this year is the lack of hay. With all of the flooding in the area, many of the fields were damaged, and crop production has fallen. Benes spoke of one field he cuts from which he normally pulls about 100 bales, but this year he only got 88. He said all total, he attempts to have between 800 and 1,000 bales for the year, but is down to about 300 due to the water.
Benes does his research and has learned much about the animals. Where he’s learned the most is through hands-on interaction with the ponies. They know his voice and run to the gate when they see him. One of them, he said, will run along the front of the fence when he’s out there, and whinny at him as if to say hello.

Conservation Practices Provide Soil Health Gains

Jerry Houselog straddles the Minnesota/South Dakota border near Pipestone on 900 acres of land that he’s been farming for about 15 years, practicing conservation upon for 10.
The operation, which includes his brother, Brian Houselog, custom farms over 5,000 acres for other area farmers.
Houselog’s conservation efforts began with strip tilling in 2008 and progressed to cover crops in 2012.
“I guess I wanted to conserve moisture and reduce erosion,” Houselog said. “That was the first driving factor.”
An added benefit were reduced trips across the field, with a corresponding reduction in time and fuel.
The combination of strip tilling and cover crops has helped Houselog improve his organic matter in his fields by more than 1 percent, he said, and the organic matter is “what affects your water-holding capacity.”
Houselog used programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which offer financial incentives to farmers to get started with the implementation of conservation practices.
“It really helps give us some guidelines,” he said.
Additionally, the financial incentives help reduce the costs that come with trying new things, such as the planting of cover crops. For the past several years, Houselog has been using cover crops such as annual rye, winter rye, cereal rye, turnips, radishes, clovers and rape seed.
“We usually like to do two or three different species to get different diversity in the mix,” he said.
Prior to using conservation farming practices, Houselog didn’t think too much about the biological side of the soil. Microbes, bacteria and the disruption tillage causes were an example of things he became more aware of once he started strip tilling.
The use of strip till has helped earthworms function in the soil, which improves soil health. Shortly after he started strip tilling Houselog picked up a clod of dirt and saw all of the earthworm tunnels in one small piece of soil.
“It’s really amazing how much work they do,” Houselog said. “You don’t really notice it, but they drag a lot of residue from the surface down into the soil and eat and the earthworm excretes what crops will take in to grow. It’s a big benefit to us.”
Houselog appreciates the benefits he’s seen from implementing conservation practices. His crops and soil have absorbed a lot of the moisture from recent rains without big gullies or erosion.
“As far as bottom line, yields are as good as conventional and it can save a lot of time and fuel,” he said. “Water infiltration, soil erosion and wind erosion –– it really helps with all of those things.”
With his own equipment, Houselog was able to help other farmers implement strip tilling by starting custom work in 2009. About five years ago he began using a Soil Warrior to complete strip tilling on his acres and the acres he custom farms.
While he does custom work to help with the cost of owning a strip-till machine, he likes to be able to help other people try conservation practices as well.
Many producers utilize Houselog’s custom strip tilling because the cost of investing in the equipment is too expensive or because they don’t have time to do it themselves.
Houselog enjoys helping people learn more about conservation practices and how they can implement them on their own farms.
“The main part is teaching other people how strip till works and that it does work in this area,” he said.

Fired up for Soil and Water Conservation

Nick Larson has never seen so many ducks and geese as he has on and around the waters of the Heron Lake Watershed District, and it has him fired up for his work in the field of soil and water conservation.
A native of northeastern Iowa, Larson is serving this summer as an intern with the HLWD and the North Heron Lake Game Producers Association.
“Where I live in McGregor, Iowa, in the northeast part of the state, we are lucky to see one or two ducks or geese in a pond or river,” Larson said. “I have been doing nest surveys for the North Heron Lake Game Producers and have seen hundreds of ducks and geese.”
Larson will be entering his second year at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville, Iowa, this fall where he is studying water quality. So this summer internship was a perfect fit, he said.
“I have good teachers at Iowa Lakes,” he said. “One of them is out now tracking mountain lions, beaver and wolves out west.”
In fact, it was one of his professors at Iowa Lakes, Drew Howing, who introduced Larson to the summer internship.
“I applied and was interviewed on Skype for the internship,” Larson said. “I talked with Adam Frank, who was an intern here last summer, and he told me it was a great job to get in the field of water quality. Adam has moved with his family to Idaho and has a job with the forest service there.”
Larson is a graduate of MFL MarMac High School in Monona, Iowa. His parents live in McGregor. His mother, Kara, works for Cabela’s in Prairie du Chien, Wis. His father, Todd, works out of their home. Larson’s younger brother, Spencer, who is 16, attends high school.
“I have been here since May 14,” Larson said of his Heron Lake-based internship. “I have been monitoring three sites — Okabena Creek, Jack Creek and the Heron Lake outlet — doing water sampling and water levels of the streams, whether they are up or down. I have been monitoring the water levels at four lakes, too — Duck Lake, West and East Graham Lakes and Fulda Lake.”
Larson also checks the soil and water stations set up to record the soil temperature at deep points, rain totals, wind direction and speed and maintains the stations.
“My responsibility is to see that they are still working, as they can be affected by storms or strong winds,” he said. “The information at the stations is stored there. The large box on the station has the water information and the smaller box on the station is for the soil.”
Come mid-July, Larson will be working with the game producers goose banding, something he is looking forward to, he said.
“My nest surveying is half done,” Larson said. “I am checking wood duck boxes for eggs and those that have been abandoned. Once in a while, I find a duck in there and they can startle you. I haven’t found any baby ducks yet. I also do mallard tubes.”
Something Larson is particularly pleased with in his internship is finding out the people in Minnesota are nice and care about their watershed.
“A hard part of the job is making sure I have all the stuff I will need for a site check before I leave here,” he said. “Some of the sites are a ways away, so now I double-check the stuff I need before going out.”
Later, Larson will be involved in compliant checks regarding rain gardens, something else he is looking forward too.
Additionally, he has had the opportunity to observe the work of a couple of conservation workers in Nobles County doing surveying and mapping of fields that have had soil affected by water that has gotten out of its natural course.
At Iowa Lakes, Larson is an active member of the Conservation Club and has helped with roadside cleanup of Highway 9 from Estherville to Spirit Lake, Iowa.
He also plays on the club’s flag football team and is a member of Trio at the college, through which he helps other students check out four-year colleges and helps them with questions they might be concerned about, as well as tutoring.


Paters Open Their Dairy to the Public in Recognition of Dairy Month

In recognition of Dairy month, Randy and Priscilla Pater recently hosted Dinner on the Dairy on June 14 during which they invited people to come check out their 1,200 head dairy operation east of Ihlen.
The Pipestone County Dairy Association holds a dinner on the dairy every two years to invite the public to visit a local dairy. This year’s was the first hosted by the Paters.
“We think it’s a nice opportunity to invite all the area people from the local towns and the surrounding communities to come out to a dairy farm and see how we do business and take care of our animals and provide jobs for people, and kind of see where their milk and cheese and butter come from and how it’s produced,” said Pater, who is a member of the Pipestone County Dairy Association Board.
In addition to dinner, the event included opportunities to watch cows being milked or to milk cows, have pictures taken with calves, and to visit with area dairy farmers, veterinarians, feed manufacturers and this year’s Dairy Princess for both Pipestone and Rock Counties: Calissa Lubben. The Paters said prior to the event that they were expecting around 600 people.
Pater grew up on a dairy farm near Holland and said he never wanted to do anything other than farm.
“I always wanted to be a farmer of some kind,” he said. “I would think, if I wasn’t a farmer, what would I do? And I just couldn’t think of anything.”
He started with 16 cows in 1988 when he was 20 years old and has steadily grown and improved his operation. When he and Priscilla were married in 1991, they had about 40 cows. Together, they grew the operation and did all the work themselves until they decided in 2006 to expand to 600 cows and hire help. In 2014 they completed the expansion of their second barn bringing their dairy to its current size. They now employ 15 full-time employees to help with milking and care of the animals.
Pater said employees milk cows around the clock in three, eight-hour shifts at their double-16 milking parlor. Milking stops just twice a day while the parlor is cleaned.
In 2007, the Paters installed a sand settling lane that allows them to recapture and reuse most of the sand bedding they use for their cows. Pater said sand is “probably the top choice for bedding for cows” because it’s comfortable to lay on, bacteria doesn’t grow on it as much as it would on organic surfaces and it provides traction for the cows on the barn floor.
Beneath the barns, water, manure and sand bedding is flushed down a pipeline to a concrete basin where the sand settles to the bottom.
“Every day you can back in there with a loader and push the sand back out and put it in a pile and let the moisture drain out,” Pater said. “Then you can reuse that sand as bedding. It’s best if you let it sit about a month or so.”
Pater said sand settling lanes were rare when they installed the system, but have since become more common in the industry.
Pater said he enjoys raising dairy cows as well as crops and the family’s operation allows him to do both. In addition to raising their own heifer calves, selling the bull calves and milking, they grow feed for the cows on 1,600 acres of cropland.
The Paters have four children, Avery, 16; Ann, 20; Amber 23; and Alexia, 25. Amber and Alexia are married and moved away. Avery is a junior in high school and still helps on the farm, as does Ann when she’s home from college