Pasture Improvement Trial

Final Report for FNC02-401

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2002: $1,197.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $2,711.00
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Expand All

Project Information


M-T Acres Farm is operated by Mike and Treasa Iho in Trenary, Michigan. We milk 45-55 Jersey cattle on 400 acres of owned and 150 acres of rented land. The herd is on a seasonal calving/rotational grazing program. Crops produced include pasture, grass/legume hay, barley and oats. A combination of no till and conventional tillage systems is used. A small cheese-making plant is newly installed to produce “juustoa”, a Finnish fresh cheese product twice a week. Mike and Treasa are full time farmers and have 2 adult children, Alan and Carrie, neither of which are working on the farm.

Prior to acquiring our Jersey herd, we ran a cow/calf and sheep operation consisting of approximately 80 beef cows and 300 ewes. We used a rotational grazing program to best utilize our pasture resources. In addition, we developed a careful crop rotation to maximize production of other feed crops, including barley, corn and oats. We also developed a conservation plan with assistance from local NRCS staff. These practices were in place for 18 years before receiving the SARE grant.

The main objective of this project was to introduce new, improved pasture grass and legume species or varieties, including festulolium, kura clover, perennial ryegrass, orchard grass, red clover and birds foot trefoil to the dairy farm grazing system.

The main components of the project include:
1) Improve pasture longevity and forage quality
2) Use of no till drill as a cultural practice
3) Reduce orchard grass and weed components in pasture
4) Increase legume component in pasture
5) Assess impact of split application of 100 lbs N per acre (3 split applications) vs. no application

This project was conceived during a series of informal “study group” meetings on field crop ecology during the winter of 2001/2002 sponsored by the local Michigan State University Extension office. The idea for a relatively large set of replicated plots (about 6 acres), two spray treatments to compare spring spraying with fall spraying (and clean up of annuals with a spring spray) of Roundup, use of no till planting, split application of nitrogen fertilizer on one set of plots and the inclusion of the various species in seeding combinations was developed at that time. These ideas were included in the 2002 SARE producer grant application with assistance from local MSU Extension staff and submitted for approval.

The use of no till seeding was included due to the stony nature of local agricultural soils. This practice allows for timely seeding in spring without the costly and time consuming work of cultivating fields, picking stone and carefully preparing the seedbed for new hay/pasture seeding. The previous crop was hay/pasture, mostly orchard grass. Normally, it is recommended to no till a larger seeded crop such as barley or corn into dead sod. Another pasture or hay crop can then be established by no till seeding the following year. However, we wanted to see how successful we could be seeding directly into a recently killed sod.

It is generally recommended to kill old hay fields the fall prior to reseeding with another crop. In this project, we wanted to see how successful we could be by suppressing the existing sod with a spring application of Roundup before no tilling a new pasture seeding. If this approach was adequate, it would allow for greater flexibility in making last minute cropping plan changes. In addition, an extra spray of Roundup is often needed in spring to clean up emerging annuals before no till seeding. If a “spring only” spray system worked adequately, this would save some money and time. By using both fall and spring only spray approaches, a comparison of results could be made.

The old pastures on the project site were composed primarily of orchard grass, which tends to dominate our pastures after several years of use. These pastures become more difficult to manage as the percent of orchard grass increases, due to the very rapid spring growth and decline in quality as the summer progresses. The use of improved varieties of perennial rye grass, orchard grass and festulolium, kura clover, and red clover in all possible grass/legume combinations, which birds foot trefoil in each mixture was intended to establish a variety of different pasture swards. Our plan was to develop pastures with a better balance of grass and legume, without the undesirable dominance of orchard grass. These new seedings compared favorably to the prior pasture in terms of manageability, palatability to grazing cattle, yield and quality.

Local dairy and livestock producers generally have plenty of land available, owned or rented, for grazing and hay. Rent is relatively low for grazing/hay land. For this reason, nitrogen fertilization of pastures and hay fields has not been a common practice. Producers simply put their animals on other available land instead of systematically attempting to increase yield. Michigan State University typically recommends 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre on grass based hay and pasture land. By applying this nitrogen recommendation in a 3 way split application, loss of nitrogen on our sandy soil through leaching would be minimized. Comparing the performance of similar plots with and without nitrogen should give a good indication if this practice makes sense. We planned to compare the yield results of the nitrogen fertilized paddocks with those not receiving nitrogen fertilizer. This information could be used to estimate the impact of improved yield on the amount of land needed for grazing and the rotational grazing timing and pattern. This summer, we experienced a severe and prolonged drought, which apparently reduced any impact the nitrogen topdressing may have had.

The two sod suppression methods to prepare the project site were completed in a timely fashion. The “fall spray” of 2 quarts Roundup with 2, 4-D per acre was applied in September 2001. The “spring spray” of 1 quart Roundup with 2, 4-D was applied in early June. The fall sprayed area also received Roundup before seeding to clean up emerging annual weeds.

The seeding was done on June 13, 2002 with a Hay buster no till drill. Seed was weighed before it went into the seeder, and all left over seed vacuumed out and weighed to provide an accurate record of seeding rate. A considerable amount of lambs quarter and pigweed emerged and grew vigorously. These weeds were clipped in early July.

The entire plot area was mowed during the first week of August, 2002 and made into round bale silage. Yield samples were collected prior to mowing by MSU Extension agent Jim Isleib and Christian Kapp, research technician from the Upper Peninsula Agricultural Experiment Station. These samples were dried and weighed. Regrowth was excellent, with considerable unharvested forage going into winter. Two applications of urea fertilizer were top dressed during the 2003 growing season in late spring and late fall. No nitrogen was applied during the mid summer due to the drought conditions. Yield checks were taken again by MSU Extension staff on June 27, 2003 just prior to grazing to compare yields at that time.

Rotational grazing in combination with clipping and mowing was used to manage the project. harvest dates during 2003 were as follows:
1) Mowed first week of August, 2002 for weed control and species rejuvenation
2) Grazed 1st two weeks of May, 2003
3) Grazed 1st two weeks of June, 2003 (clipped after grazing, raked and baled)
4) Grazed 2nd two weeks of October (long grazing interval due to drought conditions)

Jim Isleib, Alger County Extension Director, Michigan State University Extension – Jim helped develop the project concept, assisted with completing grant application, reporting, establishing and evaluating plots, and planning and promoting field days.

Dr. Doo-Hong Min, Upper Peninsula Forage Crops Specialist, Michigan State University Extension – Dr. Min assisted with project design, evaluating plots and as a resource person at the field days.

Dr. Ben Bartlett, Upper Peninsula Dairy and Livestock Area of Expertise Agent, Michigan State University Extension – Dr. Bartlett assisted with project design, advised concerning harvest/grazing management and served as a resource person during field days.

Christian Kapp, Research Technician, MSU Upper Peninsula Agricultural Experiment Station, Chatham, MI – Mr. Kapp assisted with ordering seed, establishing and evaluating plots.

Mark Ash and Tiffany Lindquist, seasonal crop and research employees at the MSU Upper Peninsula Agricultural Experiment Station, Chatham, MI – assisted with yield checks and sample processing.

The establishment of the plots was very successful, especially in fall sprayed plot areas. This was probably due to the abundant and timely rainfall during the establishment year. This was better than expected. In the spring only sprayed plots, competition from perennial weeds and surviving birds foot trefoil resulted in much lower survival of seedlings. In both yield checks, the forage from the spring only sprayed plots contain a much larger percent of weeds and undesirable forage plants than the fall sprayed plots.

The comparison of fall vs. spring timing of herbicide application to suppress existing sod was very clear. It reinforced the need to kill old sod the fall prior to no till seeding. The area which was spring sprayed only was full of surviving birds foot trefoil, Canada thistle, tansy and other perennial weeds. The entire plot area, fall and spring only sprayed, were weedy after seeding. However, the fall sprayed area regrowth after mowing in August was virtually weed free, while the spring only area continued to suffer intense competition from perennial weeds. Performance of the spring only sprayed plots is probably not a good indicator of the potential results of the other practices.

The use of no till seeding to establish these plots was very successful, even though is may have been risky to attempt to no till into a dead or suppressed sod. The success we experienced could be attributed to careful setting and operation of the drill and timely rain following seeding and throughout the establishment growing season.

All of the seed mixtures established were superior to the prior sod. The mixtures including red clover were dominated by red clover. Those including kura clover were dominated by whichever forage grass was included, with birds foot trefoil appearing as the main legume component. In late August, 2003 MSU Extension staff rated the orchard grass/red clover/birds foot trefoil seed mixture as the best-looking mixture in terms of grass/legume ratio and the overall appearance. Festulolium appeared to perform a little better than perennial rye grass, based on the lower competition from red clover in these plots. There was not a significant difference in winter survival between festulolium and perennial rye grass so far. An important observation for the future will be to compare the survival of these two grass species through several winters. The festulolium seemed to perform better than perennial ryegrass under the drought conditions during 2003. However, orchard grass outperformed both during the drought. Kura clover was not competitive with the other forage species seeded, so was not a very significant component in the forage where it was seeded. Research on kura clover at the MSU Upper Peninsula Agricultural Experiment Station and at the University of Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station in Ashland, Wisconsin have shown that it takes three or four years for kura clover to establish itself permanently and reach a balance in the forage composition. This will also need to be watched in the future. Orchard grass was not out of balance in any of the seeding mixtures in which it was included. In all seed mixtures, the legume component was increased over the old sod. It is hoped that as the red clover component disappears, the kura clover component and birds foot trefoil will increase to replace it.

Some trouble was experienced in calibrating the no till seed drill for festulolium. As there was no setting for this species in the operator’s manual, we had to use trial and error, resulting in a high rate of festulolium seeded in the first couple plots. This overly high rate seemed to suppress weeds in the spring only sprayed part of the project. Apparently, competition among seedlings resulted in the plots eventually reaching a similar plant stand to those plots we seeded after re-adjusting the drill.

The nitrogen fertilization part of the project was impacted by the severe drought experience during 2003. Only 2 of the 3 planned applications of urea were done, resulting in about 66 lbs of actual nitrogen applied per acre instead of the 100 pounds per acre over 3 applications in our proposal. Yield checks indicate that nitrogen fertilization impacted plot yields favorably. However, the drought conditions may have limited the impact of the nitrogen fertilizer.

The yield results from the yield check taken in August 2002 does not show any significant difference between spring only sprayed plots. The fall sprayed plots showed differences. Those containing red clover yielded better than those containing kura clover. The yield check data taken on June 27, 2003 is more complicated, since it also includes nitrogen fertilization versus no nitrogen fertilization. Treatment 3 (red clover, festulolium and birds foot trefoil) seemed to give consistent high yield under all treatments. This could be accounted for by the overly high seeding rate and subsequent weed suppression of these plots in the spring only sprayed area. When the average yield of all seed mixtures under the four treatments are considered, it appears that the yield of the plots receiving nitrogen was higher than the unfertilized plots, even with the drought conditions. There does not appear to be much difference between the spring only and fall spray treated plots. However, we noticed that the composition of these plots was very different, with the spring only forage containing much more weeds.

The project was shared with others through three field days (September 19, 2002, July 21, 2003, and October 8, 2003). August promoted by mailings from the local MSU Extension office and notices in the regional MSU Extension UP Ag Connections newsletter (reaching about 1200 farm and industry people), and a local television news story. The two field days were attended by a total of 39 people. The local TV news story reaches throughout the central Upper Peninsula. In addition, this project will be summarized for one of the monthly winter issues of the UP Ag Connections. Funding has been awarded for continuation of this SARE producer grant through 2004. this new funding will allow comprehensive yield and quality comparison between the different plots. Since a much more complete evaluation will be done next year, we decided to postpone submitting information from this trial for inclusion in the state wide MSU Extension Field Crops Area of Expertise “On Farm Research and Demonstration” publication until next fall.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.