Pasture Improvement Trial: Enhancing Results By Analyzing Samples and Observing Cattle Grazing Preferences

Final Report for FNC03-439

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2003: $6,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $2,665.00
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
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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. Our small, on farm cheese making plant is in its second year of operation, producing “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.

Sustainable practices used before receiving this grant:
Prior to acquiring our Jersey herd, we ran a cow/calf and sheep operation consisting of approximately 80 beef cows and 300 ewes, respectively. 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 our first (2002) SARE producer grant.

Continuation of 2002 SARE producer grant:
Because of the success and local interest in the original SARE producer grant project, we decided to request a second grant to enhance our results by collecting more detailed information on the yield, quality and palatability of the plots established in 2002. To avoid duplication, this report focuses on the additional work done under the 2003 grant.

This project was to enhance the impact of our original 2002 SARE funded project “Pastured Improvement Trial.” The addition of more complete yield and forage sample analysis from all plots established during the 2002 provides valid, meaningful information related to the various types of pastures swards.

The overall objective of this project, included in the original 2002 SARE producer grant final report, was to introduce new, improved pasture grass and legume species and varieties, including festulolium, kura clover, perennial rye grass, orchard grass, red clover and birdsfoot trefoil to the diary farm grazing system. Plots were approximately 20x125 feet and replicated 4 times, for a total of 96 plots.

The main components of the 2002 project included:
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

The new goals of the 2003 grant included:
- Collect and interpret yield data from each plot for multiple harvest (grazing) events
- Collect and interpret forage quality data from each plot for multiple harvest events
- Observations of cattle preferences from the various forage combinations in the plots

The addition of funds to allow the hiring of extra labor during the grazing season allowed for collection and processing of multiple yield and quality samples. We were unable to schedule adequate time to systematically observe cattle feeding preferences among the various seed mixtures and treatments. This is reflected in the reduced expenditure on labor. However, informal observations were made. County and regional Michigan State University Extension staff helped with analysis of the information collected. The yield and quality information made possible by the conjunction of the project for an additional year provides a more definite idea about the performance of the forage species mixtures and various management practices.

Description of how the project was planned and conducted:
A high school student was hired as a summer worker and trained to perform extra tasks during the grazing season. This worker collected yield and forage quality samples from each plot from multiple grazings. The samples were dried and weighed at the Michigan State University Upper Peninsula Agricultural Experiment Station in Chatham, Michigan, about 10 miles distance. Dry weights were recorded. A forage quality sample from each plot was submitted to the AgSource Soil and Forage Testing Laboratory in Bonduel, Wisconsin for quality analysis. the experiment station research technician, Alger County Extension Director and MSU Upper Peninsula District Forage Extension Specialist assisted with sample collection and processing as possible. Statistical analysis of data was conducted by Dr. Doo-Hong Min, Michigan State University Upper Peninsula Forage Crops Extension Specialist. A total of 4 grazings x 48 plots x 2 Nitrogen treatments = 384 forage yield and quality tests were collected and processed.

Jim Isleib, Alger County Extension Director, Michigan State University Extension – Jim helped develop the project concept, assisted with completing grant application, reporting, training the hired summer worker, evaluating results and planning and promoting the field day.

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

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

Christian Kapp, Research Technician, MSU Upper Peninsula Agricultural Experiment Station, Chatham, MI – Mr. Kapp assisted with training the hired summer worker and sample processing .

Mitch Hall, hired summer worker – Mitch collected and processed yield and forage quality samples.

Plot stand ratings taken on May 10 and July 12, 2004 indicate that the combinations including orchard grass and festulolium formed the best looking stands. Those treatments sprayed off in fall and spring looked much better than those sprayed spring only. However dry matter yield information does not support the idea that the plots receiving better stand ratings performed better than those receiving lower ratings. Overall, orchard grass seems to gaining as a percentage of sward in all plots. This has become more evident in the fall of 2004 and was one of the original problems to be addressed in this project. A large and healthy seed bank of orchard grass from previous years appears to be providing new orchard grass plants over the entire area.
Forage Dry Matter Yield (ton/acre) in 2004
Spring (3.19b)
Species, Nitrogen, No Nitrogen, Mean
RC/PR/BFT, 2.74, 2.99, -
KC/PR/BFT, 3.09, 350, 3.28
RC/F/BFT, 3.07, 3.33, 3.15
KC/F/BFT, 3.22, 3.37, 3.20
RC/O/BFT, 3.16, 3.40, 3.20
KC/O/BFT, 3.04, 3.44, 3.12

Fall+Spring (3.04a)
RC/PR/BFT, 2.50, 2.77, 2.75
KC/PR/BFT, 3.42, 3.12, -
RC/F/BFT, 3.37, 2.81, -
KC/F/BFT, 3.22, 3.37, -
RC/O/BFT, 3.18, 3.07, -
KC/O/BFT, 2.97, 3.03, -

RC = Starfire Rec Clover (12.7 lbs/acre)
KC = Endura Kura Clover (12.7 lbs/acre)
PR = Quartet Perennial Ryegrass (11 lbs/acre)
F = Duo Festulolium (8.7 lbs/acre)
O = Tekapo or Bronc Orchard grass (5 or 9 lbs/acre, respectively)
BFT = Norcen Birdfoot Trefoil (4.8 lbs/acre)

The analysis of all the data collected became very complex. Four significant differences were discovered based on the yield data:
- Spring only spayed plots yielded higher than spring and fall sprayed on average (opposite of what we expected)
- Spring only sprayed plots receiving no nitrogen yielded higher than spring only sprayed plots which received nitrogen (opposite of what we expected)
- Fall and spring sprayed plots which received nitrogen yielded higher than fall and spring sprayed plots which received no nitrogen (expected results)
- All species mixtures yielded similarly, with the exception of the red clover/perennial rye grass/birds foot trefoil mixture, which yielded less.

Strangely, in 2004 the reps originally sprayed spring only in 2002 before seeding yielded better than the reps sprayed in fall, 2001 and again in spring 2002. Apparently, the beneficial effect of eliminating perennials before no till seeding has been diluted over time. The weather probably had a large impact on these results. The establishment year (2002) was an exceptionally good growing season. The following year (2003) was extremely droughty. The current growing season (2004) began with excessive rain and remained very cool throughout the summer. The warmest temperatures occurred in September.

Overall, the yield results were surprising in that the expected differences favoring spring and fall spraying before seeding and the impact of nitrogen fertilization did not occur.

Forage quality results indicate, arguably, the following order of quality:
1) Kura/PR/BFT (1st in yield, not statistically different from first five in yield)
2) RC/PR/BFT (6th in yield, statistically different from the rest)
3) RC/Fest/BFT (4th in yield, not statistically different from first five in yield)
4) Kura/Fest/BFT (2nd or 3rd in yield, not statistically different from first five in yield)
5) Kura/Orch/BFT (5th in yield, not statistically different from first five in yield)
6) RC/Orch/BFT (2nd or 3rd in yield, not statistically different from first five in yield)

Since much of the perennial rye grass winter killed over the 2003/2004 winter, much of the yield and forage quality results must be due to the birds foot trefoil, red clover, volunteer forage plants and weed components of these plots. The kura clover has not yet developed into a large percentage of yield in any plots.

The project was shared with others through a field day held on September 14, 2004 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). The field day was attended by a total of 22 people. The 2003 project (data collected in 2004) will also be summarized for one of the monthly winter issues of the UP Ag Connections. A summary of this project will be submitted for inclusion in the state wide 2005 MSU Extension Field Crops Area of Expertise “On Farm Research and Demonstration “publication.


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.