Justin Robbins is a fourth generation Iowa farmer who grew up on a diversified farm with livestock and row crops. His wife, Lacie, also comes from a farm background, growing up on a cow/calf farm in Grand Junction, Iowa. Together, they formed the Robbins Land & Cattle LLC in Scranton, Iowa. The Robbins family is focused on good stewardship and conservation practices for their farm and producing high quality Angus beef. Recently, Robbins Land & Cattle was named the 2021 Iowa Environmental Stewardship Award Program winner through the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
Robbins considers it a blessing to have the opportunity to farm and he feels strongly about using responsible and sustainable management practices to protect the long term environmental and financial health of his operation. Robbins Land & Cattle is situated along flat and rolling land adjacent to the North Raccoon River in Greene County. The Raccoon River has long been the focus of several environmental groups that have labeled the river as one of the most endangered in the country. Robbins knows there is no quick fix to these issues but he committed to doing his part.
“My biggest thing is I want to leave the land better tomorrow than when I found it today,” said Justin Robbins. “We follow the ‘Golden Rule’ and do unto others as you’d have them do unto you because you need to realize there is always somebody else drinking downstream. This is why we utilize cover crops; pasture rotation and water use management. For instance, we took about 80 acres of row crop ground out of production and put it into pasture rotation on land that was near the Raccoon River. We were starting to lose the edges of the field and we had a lot of washed out sections and ravines. By converting this land into pasture, we are allowing the land to rest and stop the erosion and runoff. We see the results – we are building soil health and seeing good, black soil build back up and seeing more grass grow.”
The Robbins family has spent the last 18 years improving their farmland and their purebred Angus operation.
“We also utilize cover crops on around 50 percent of our row crop acres,” said Robbins. “Cover crops are a lot like a sponge for our soil – they hold the water for when it is needed. It really helps keep the soil healthy and alive.”
Water Use Management is Key to Sound Stewardship
Robbins uses a variety of water management practices, including rebuilding and implementing farm ponds on pasture ground. Robbins also utilizes energy efficient watering systems to maintain the quality of his water sources.
“Whether it is your fencing, your feeding equipment or your waterer – it is all about the right tools,” said Robbins. “You need reliable equipment that you don’t have to spend a lot of time on. For example, I use Ritchie waterers on our farm because they are reliable – they just work. Our previous waterers always iced over. They had one to two inches of ice almost daily in the wintertime. Granted, it is not hard to break up the ice but that takes time. Sometimes when you are chipping the ice away you’ll damage the float and then you’ve got to fix it. Ritchie waterers are energy efficient, they cost me pennies to operate and I don’t have to deal with ice.
When I was working on a cattle farm in high school, the guy I was working for used a cheap, knock-off brand watering system. I remember spending all day hauling out corn stalk bales and breaking them over the top of them to try and insulate them during the winter. That didn’t work and we always had inches of ice to chip almost daily. That experience stayed with me and I really appreciate equipment that is well made and saves me time because time is one thing you can’t put a price on.
We have some Ritchie Omni 3 and 5 waterers and these units are so easy to clean and I actually have a lot less feed and forage that end up in the trough. So many of the stock tanks on the market today are just junk. They are made of thin, cheap materials and are hard to transport. The poly waterers like Ritchie are just so much more durable. We have several Ritchie models on the farm and I am currently exploring the possibility of running some portable Ritchie Genesis waterers on a solar well pump and installing a battery to run the heating element.”
Rotational Grazing Pays Off in Healthy Soil and Healthy Calves & Cows
Robbins pumps water from his centrally located ponds to his various rotational grazing paddocks and waterers. This strategy helps keep the water fresh and clean and reduces the distance that the cattle have to walk to get fresh water. This also allows his bulls and cows to winter graze on pasture.
“We survived the drought this year because of rotational grazing,” said Robbins. “Our pond is two feet below the outlet this September and with the continued, improved soil, our grass is in better shape this year than last. We are seeing higher weaning weights – this year we saw our calves weigh 22 pounds more than last year. Another major benefit to rotational grazing is being able to bring up all your cattle on a regular basis. This allows us to spot any health issue right away because we see all the cattle when we rotate from paddock to paddock. It is not a huge project to get one cow, treat her and put her back out to pasture. It makes the management so much quicker and easier.”
Adding a New Tool to the Farm – Direct Online Sales
Faith is a major influence and comfort in many farm families’ lives. This was never truer than in 2015 when the Robbins’ youngest son, Grant, was killed in an ATV accident. An outpouring of love and support from their neighbors and church community compelled Robbins to express his thanks by having a few head of beef processed and given as a thank you for all they had done for his family. Several folks raved about the quality of the beef and encouraged Robbins to start selling direct.
A self-described “big dreamer”, Robbins jumped into the farm to table market and now sells direct to consumers on his website www.RobbinsLandAndCattle.com and ships coast to coast.
“When I started this I was thinking maybe I would sell a dozen whole beef,” said Robbins. “Last year we sold over 50 whole beefs. We also sell halves, quarters and have added individual cuts, bundle boxes and beef snacks. It’s just amazing how people want a relationship, they want to know where their food is coming from. It’s fun to be able to share our farm story and connect with folks.”
For more information visit:
Ritchie Industries | RitchieFount.com
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association ESAP | Environmental Stewardship Award (ncba.org)
Robbins Land & Cattle | Robbins Land & Cattle (robbinslandandcattle.com)
Ritchie Industries was founded in 1921 by Thomas Ritchie, an Oskaloosa, Iowa farmer. Ritchie patented the first automatic waterer valve and developed the first automatic livestock watering systems. Celebrating 100 years of always being made in America, Ritchie is headquartered in Conrad, Iowa. This employee-owned business designs, engineers and manufactures over 40 models of waterers to meet the needs of livestock producers and horse owners. Over 3 million Ritchie units have been sold worldwide. Visit RitchieFount.com for more information.