• 256 acre family farm
• 105 acres permanent pastures – 20 paddocks
• 135 crop acres – mostly forage in legume/grass mixtures hay/graze rotation
• 15-20 acres/year are renovated with an annual; corn, BRM sorghum/sudan grass, small grain, etc.
• Balance of acres buildings/wooded
• 2 streams
• 300 + ewe farm flock
• 30 beef cows grass finishing a portion of the yearlings
• Stockpile forage for fall/winter
Permanent pastures have been under managed grazing since 1984. I began converting crop acres into long rotation forage with hay/graze in mid 90’s. We out winter cattle and ewe flock, and have reduce days on hay to around 110 days/year on average.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
After 7 or more years in forage production for hay and grazing, fields experience a decline in production, despite being managed for nutrient removal. We’ve found that by rotating a field into an annual row crop and then re-establishing forage that we can have a re-invigorated, more productive forage system.
The goal of this project was to replace the row crop phase with an annual “seed salad” seeded following 1st harvest of forage. I wanted to examine total seasonal forage production, forage production of the “seed salad” mix, and forage quality of the mix. The “seed salad” was to be grazed in the fall and then the field will be re-seeded the following spring. Mechanical harvest and ensiling or dry baling is an option, but one I do not plan to address with this project. I also left an area within the field with a simple binary mix of orchardgrass and red clover, and then monitor this in subsequent years to see if there are any demonstrated changes in soil fertility as a result of having this type of renovation performed.
One of the arguments against renovation, beyond incurring additional expense, is the lower yield in the establishment year and whether the added production from renovation will overcome this deficit. According to some research from ARS in Mandan, on seed salad mixes for cover crops, as the diversity of the mixtures increased so did total forage yield. If this proves to be true the argument against renovation due to lower forage production could be negated.
Feed costs represent the single largest expense in livestock and dairy production. Forage costs for production and harvest have greatly escalated in the past two seasons. One of the arguments for corn silage is the amount of tonnage/acre it is capable of delivering. Depending upon yield and forage quality results, this “seed salad” strategy could also be used to replace corn silage on some more erodible acres for both livestock and dairy enterprises.
The forage species that I choose to include in the mix were:
• Berseem Clover (Bigbee) at 6 pounds
• BMR Sudan Grass (Promax) at 8 pounds
• Chickling Vetch (AC Greenfix) at 20 pounds
• Oats at 20 pounds
• Pasja at 2 pounds
• Pearl Millet at 7 pounds
• Teff (Tiffany) at 2 pounds
I decided to slightly expand the scope of this project into two 5-acre fields. Field 1 was entirely sprayed out with Glyphosphate and the seed salad mixture no-tilled in. I planned to allow this field to accumulated dry matter and stockpile this forage for grazing under snow in early winter. Field 18, (2nd field) I did a partial kill with Glyphosphate leaving half of the field with the original perennial forage mix of orchardgrass/red clover to evaluate difference in production and forage quality compared with the no-till seed salad mixture.
The original inspiration for this practice came from North Dakota where they were seeding mixtures as a cover crop following wheat harvest. I wanted to wait until wheat harvest began in SW Wisconsin before beginning the project so that I was working in what I though would be a similar time line to existing trials.
I collected yield data from field 18; this was grazed three times before beginning the project.
Grazed on May 10 with 27 yearlings for 4 days, grazed on June 12 with grass yearling for 3 days, and finally with 28 cow/calf group from July 14-18. Both fields were sprayed on July 20. I rented an Aitchison no-till drill, and seeded both fields on July 28 at a rate of 65 lbs/acre, and then visually monitored germination and growth.
There was visible differences in establishment across the field; where residue left from grazing was more significant, establishment was lower. Areas where the sod was not effectively killed where the sprayer skipped, likewise had lower establishment levels. Where residual grass levels were lowest, establishment was excellent. In most places all species could be identified.
I allowed the fields to accumulate dry matter until an early freeze in September killed all warm season annuals and stopped their growth. At this point, I randomly collected three samples from the seed mixture and the existing field. These samples were oven dried then a pooled sample of existing and the seed salad was sent to the university forage testing lab for analysis.
Jim Campbell, owner of the no-till drill showed me how to operate and calibrate the drill for the seeding rate that I wanted. Rhonda Gildersleeve, our UWEX county Agriculture Agent accepted a temporary assignment as state wide grazing researcher was unable to provide all the assistance in identifying species and taking yield measurements. Marlene Sorenson from NRCS, participated in the pasture walk to see what the application of the practice might be for other producers.
I began strip grazing Field 18 on October 10, with the cow/calf herd. I continued to visually monitor for utilization and any observable palatability differences. I completed grazing Field 18 on October 19. Forage yield on the cover crop section was 4900 lbs., and the second half of the field 1900 lbs of orchardgrass/red clover. This resulted in 3000 additional lbs of forage compared with doing nothing. Utilization was significantly greater on the seeding versus the existing sward, while I did not collect and measure, my estimate would be greater than 90 percent utilization on the seeding versus 50 percent on the existing sward.
Field 1, I chose to stockpile until some significant snow to evaluate the suitability of the seed salad for stockpiling as winter feed. A significant snow storm covered the area in 14 inches of snow on December 8. With the forecast of snow, I moved the herd onto the first strip of the 5 acre field on December 6. The first strip of approximately 1.25 acre lasted the herd for 3 days. Based on cow weight and intake I estimate the harvested yield at 4300 lbs. After two days on the second strip, a calf had gotten through the electric fence and torn it down trying to get back with the herd, with the result that the herd had unrestricted access to the remaining 2.5 acres.
Utilization dropped with much trampling of forage. If utilization for the remaining strips was similar to the first, I expected to get 12 days of forage off this field. The trampling resulted in only 8 days of feed. However, the cow and calves did demonstrate they could effectively graze this mixture under the 14 inch snow cover, and that it remained palatable until that time.
July of 2009 was 7.5 degrees below average, and August 1.5 degrees below normal. Moisture levels were slightly above normal until September. Cool season forage production was exceptional, conversely warm season forages did not produce near their expectations from the lack of normal summer temperatures. This limited the contribution of warm season forages in the salad mix to the total tons produced. Competition for sunlight and/or high residual left from our normal grazing management reduced germination and/or growth of the seed salad in some areas of the fields. Mechanically harvesting for stored feeds, to reduce this would seem to be a more effective strategy, and will be evaluated in the future.
Waiting till wheat harvest time may be a little too late to maximize production from the warm season forages in our region. Moving the seeding date to early July or even late June would seem a better option. I would also consider a warm season mix followed by a cool season mix seeded around September 1, compared with a single mix of warm and cool seasoned seeded together at one time, similar to this experience.
There are no guidelines on seeding rates in complex mixtures, seeding rate was likely too high and this might be able to be adjusted downward, lowering seed cost/acre. I have since developed a seed salad calculator to help better adjust seeding rates and species. While the berseem clover germinated and grew, I think the growth pattern of crimson clover might make it a better choice.
Utilization was exceptional and palatability was a non issue. The feed quality was a large surprise. I expected with the warm season forage that the quality would be lower. This is feed more suited to dairy or finishing cattle production rather than cow/calf or ewe feed. In the future, I would plan to use this through the fall and early winter with our grass finishing yearlings or lamb crop. See Attached Forage Analysis.
In the spring of 2010 I no-tilled a perennial forage mixture into the trial area. The grass/legume mixture readily re-established and was grazed lightly for the first time in late June and more aggressive in July. I intend to use this idea of seeding a cover crop mix into the un-renovated half of the paddock and repeat the process a second season.
The project was included as planned program on the Southwest Wisconsin Regional Pasture Walk schedule in October. The pasture walk included background on cover crops, seeds mixture, dates, rates and production information at the time of the walk. This was attended by 17 producers and one NRCS employee.
Additional outreach included speaking on cover crops, grazing and results of this project at an Agronomy course at UW-Platteville in November to 22 students. I also spoke about my general experience with general grazing seeding annuals and this specific cover crop project in December at the NW Illinois Grazing Program attended by approximately 40 producers.
I’ve shared my experiences with the State Grazing Research Specialist as well as the University Ag Experiment station at Lancaster, which is beginning to trial a few cover crop species following wheat.
Future outreach includes continuing cover crops and seed salad demonstrations and working with graziers and dairy producers to trial this idea. I’d like to put a fact sheet together on this experience, and results of future mix and variations on this theme.