Soil Health Ambassador: Kesler Farms — Pasture Intercropping

Author: Leslie Michel, Soil Scientist at the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Quotes from Kolbey Kesler from Kesler Farms.

An image of a dark green background.

When trying new soil health management practices you cannot be scared to experiment. The day you start is the day you start succeeding.

On the edge of Elma, WA, is the beautiful farm of Kolbey and Heidi Kessler. The Keslers raise hay and beef cattle.  

The Keslers frequently work with the Grays Harbor Conservation District to install projects, including installing a manure waste facility with rainwater storage for livestock troughs. They also frequently rent the District's no-till drill. 

Intercropping is frequently done in row crops, with two or more crops planted together. The Keslers have adopted the practice to improve their grass hay pasture. Intercropping benefits the soil by utilizing multiple species that provide different resources and nutrient demands and input than the main crop. Cover crops help to feed the soil and capture nutrients. 

The Keslers began intercropping their pasture with cover crops about five years ago and have seen a variety of benefits to their farm, primarily an increased yield in most years and the overall health of their livestock.  

Hear from Kolbey himself in this short video

View the video transcript in English or Spanish

A box in a piece of farming equipment filled with seed.

Why was it important to you and your farm to begin intercropping your pasture? 

“It’s very important to us to start using to cover crops on this farm, because with our soil—we don't have very much soil, and we sit on rock about 12 inches deep. Every summer you see the grass come and it'll green up, the cows munch it down, and no return. So, I knew I was going to have to do something to keep cows on there all year long.  

Good friends of ours work for the Conservation District and they mentioned cover crops. I listened to them and kind of just thought, okay. Then I started looking into it one day and caught my interest. So I started reading a bunch of books about it, and the books said, ‘the more you plant, the better off you’ll be, and see just what works and just keep repeating that and you'll get a better return. And we've seen that in five years. It sounds like a long time, but something like this takes it's not an overnight deal. You build very [slowly]—it’s a very slow process.” 

A farmer in a field with green grass holding a piece of soil.

What were the biggest challenges to transitioning to bale grazing in the beginning? 

Our biggest problem with transitioning to cover crops was co farming with my father-in-law. He's always been a conventional guy. We've always done it this way. It works, [we] know it. It just takes [away] a lot of stress.  [If you] Try something else and get a failure, what do you do? But that's why I took this 40-acre field to experiment in—I wanted to try to see if that would change the soil and the soil content and build [soil health] at the same time. The yield has been growing for the last five years. 

What have been some of the benefits that you’ve seen? 

I'm glad you asked about the health and the husbandry of my cattle herd. That is a huge one. That is something in the last seven years I haven't had the vet out here. We haven't had pinkeye, and we haven't had deficiencies, I haven't had a cow die in ten years or better. They're outside all year long and their coats or thicker. I do put mineral tubs out, they last I can put six mineral tubs out in the last 12 months. 

A black and white cow and a black cow standing in a field with green grass.

What would you tell other growers interested in experimenting with these practices? 

You cannot be scared to experiment. You have to take a piece and start working with it. That the day you start is the day you start succeeding. Even a failure is knowledge.  You don't keep doing that. But you’ve got to try something else. You can't give up. There's always a fix for a lot of things and just asking around, go to the feed store have a cup of coffee, and talk to them. 

There are a lot of resources — they can call me, and I will send them to somebody else if I can answer them or I'll show them the books that I read. I've read seven different books on soil, and each book says something different. I just started throwing it all out there, and a couple of things didn't work.” 

a cow standing in a foggy field.

Books Kolbey has read: 

Find Your Local Conservation District

Use this map to find the conservation district closest to you: 

Kolbey partners with the Grays Harbor Conservation District: 


Additional Bale Grazing resources:  

Planting Cover Crops in Pastures: 

Interseeding Annual Cover Crops into Perennial Pasture: 

Integrating Grazing into Cropping Systems: Cover Crop Species and Crop Rotations:  

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A woman in sunglasses is taking a selfie in front of a grain silo in the picturesque pasture.

Leslie Michel

Leslie works with counties on the Voluntary Stewardship Program through the Washington State Department of Agricutlure, providing technical support on their monitoring plans. She also assists with the Washington Soil Health Initiative and Sustainable Farms and Fields program by providing support for soil sampling.

This article was published by the Washington Soil Health Initiative. For more information, visit To have these posts delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe to the WaSHI newsletter. To find a soil science technical service provider, visit the Washington State University Extension website or the Washington State Conservation District website.