The Economic Value of Grazing and Harvesting Cover Crops for Livestock Forage in Between Grain Crops

Final Report for FNC14-956

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2014: $19,826.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:
Jennifer Lattire
Lattire Farms
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Project Information

Summary:

The Harrison County Cattle Association applied for a SARE Grant in 2014 and have completed the research trials for this two year project. Five producers worked together to evaluate triticale against their regular cover crop, winter wheat, for soil health improvements and its forage value. Three producers collected the cover crops as a dried hay product, one harvested and ensiled the cover crop and the last producer grazed triticale along with forage turnips. Through the analysis of the nutrient content of each forage product, we found triticale hay could meet the nutritional requirements for a mid-gestational cow, but falls short for late gestational and lactating cow. Winter wheat hay requires a supplement to meet the cow’s needs at all stages. When looking at silage, the winter wheat and triticale both meet the needs of the mid gestational and late gestational cow. The lactating cow only needs a bit of protein to meet her nutritional requirements. The triticale had a higher yield than the winter wheat in 2016 but comparable in 2015. We attribute that to weather conditions in the fall of 2014. When we compared root depth of the cover crops, we found triticale went several inches deeper than winter wheat, in fact, the wheat stopped at the fragipan and started growing horizontally against the barrier whereas the triticale roots penetrated the fragipan layer and continued several inches through that layer. One sample went as far as 52 inches! We presented this information to approximately 90 cattle producers in southern Indiana at two field days. To finalize and complete the report, the Cattle Association is working with the Extension Educator to complete the required report and develop an information sheet that can be used by producers to help determine the needs of their cows during the gestation cycle.

Introduction:

Jennifer Lattire and her husband along with brother and father plant 2000 acres of corn, soybeans, and wheat crops every year near Elizabeth, IN. They also have approximately 100 head of cattle and produce timothy, alfalfa, and grass hays. The cattle receive supplemental forage at different times during the year depending on their needs in the pastures. We rotate our herd on a regular basis.

They invited four other producers to be involved in this grant; Tony Day, Justin Fleace, Kevin Sieg, and Tom Ferree. 

Larry and Tony Day, who are father and son, work together to manage 2,000 acres of corn, beans, and wheat, 70 acres of hay, 150 head of breeding cows on 200 acres of pasture, and 2 confined feeding operations for 8,000 finishing hogs near Elizabeth, IN. The concept of cover crops is not new to these producers as they have integrated wheat for grazing and hay production, and cereal rye/tillage radish for soil improvements in row crops.

Justin Fleace recently purchased his grandfather’s farm in Laconia, IN in 2009, and has been working on the farm since he was big enough to help his grandfather. In 2014, he plans to have nearly 125 acres in row crops, with roughly 40 acres of the corn to be chopped for silage. In the spring of 2014, he will have 60 acres of wheat to chop for haylage and plans to have 100 acres to plant in wheat in the fall. As a young producer, Justin is eager to find new ways to increase the efficiency of his integrated system and understands the importance of on-farm research.

Kevin Sieg works closely with Mike Flock to use a portion of the grain crop fields to use some of the grain crop fields as another source for hay production. He produces between 200 to 220 acres of hay per year, with 30 to 50 of those acres in a cover crop wheat hay. He uses this to feed approximately 100 head of breeding age cows with this forage production.

Tom Ferree was invited to step in on the second year of the project to take Kevin’s place. He farms around 1000 acres of grain crops and owns around 68 cows. He has been using cover crop winter wheat on some of his grain crop fields. 

All producers have grown winter wheat in the past and then used it for hay production or grain crop harvest. No till is a practice that is also used by all producers. We were able to see soil analysis from previous years for Larry Day and Justin Fleace.

The Natural Resources Conservation Services assisted with the soil health aspect of the grant. They provided a soil core sampler to extract cores from a field with cover crops planted.

Miranda Ulery, Purdue Extension Educator of Harrison County, was included to help collect soil and forage samples, develop a trial plan and schedule, and help deliver results at the field day. She also helped make sure the grant requirements were met. She worked with the Grazing Extension Specialist from Purdue University to provide information about grazing cover crops and how to go about choosing the right cover crops for the trial. Ronald Lemenager, the Beef Extension Specialist from Purdue University, assisted with creating scenarios and charts to determine the nutritional needs of the gestational and lactating beef cows and if our cover crop forage products would meet the cow’s needs.

The Jackson Jennings Co-Op (now Premier Ag) assisted by delivering seed to each of the research plots and assisting with agronomic and technical information about cover crops.

 

Project Objectives:
  • Find ways to become more efficient with the land available in Southern Indiana
  • Use integrated crop-livestock producers to find ways to rotate forages with grain crops
  • Determine if cover crops can effectively be used as a forage option and improve the soil health at the same time

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Kevin Chastain
  • Tony Day
  • Andrew Edge
  • Tom Ferree
  • Justin Fleace
  • Dr. Keith Johnson
  • Dr. Ron Lemenager
  • Westin Rink
  • Kevin Sieg
  • Miranda Ulery

Research

Materials and methods:
  • The producers, were all current cattle producers who also raise grain crops in Southern Indiana.
  • Each producer chose fields that would normally have cover crops applied after a grain crop.
  • Each field had a soil sample taken for nutrient value at the beginning and end of the 2 year trial
  • The triticale and winter wheat were drilled into each field
    • Kevin Sieg drilled a 50:50 mixture of the cover crops at 1 ½ bushels per acre of each
    • Tony Day drilled triticale on one half of the field and winter wheat on the other half at 1 ½ bushels per acre.
    • Justin Fleace drilled triticale and winter wheat separately at 2 bushels per acre
    • Jennifer Lattire drilled triticale over 100% of her field at a rate of 2 bushels per acre. She also added forage turnips to the mixture at 4 lb per acre.
    • Tom Ferree and Andrew Edge duplicated Kevin Sieg’s drilling rates for the 2015-2016 growing season.
  • Fertilizer was applied in the spring on each field.
  • In the spring, the cover crops were harvested for a forage product or grazed.
    • Jennifer Lattire grazed the triticale with forage turnips before killing and planting a grain crop
    • Tony Day, Kevin Sieg, and Tom Ferree harvested for a dried hay product
    • Justin Fleace harvested for an ensiled forage product
  • Fields were no-till and planted in grain crops after the removal of cover crops
  • Forage products were sampled for nutrient analysis after harvest; except for the cover crops that were grazed. These were sampled as fresh cut grass
  • Samples were sent to a laboratory specializing in forage analysis.
  • The nutritional value was evaluated according to the needs of the livestock that would receive the forage products.
  • The whole trial was repeated for a second year.
  • Each producer stored the hay as they normally would.

 

Research results and discussion:
  • In the fall of 2014, Justin planted 14.6 acres at a rate of 1.5 bushels per acre, Tony planted 35 acres at a rate of 2 bushels per acre, and Kevin planted 74 acres at a rate of 3 bushels per acre. Jennifer was unable to plant a cover crop due to weather conditions.
  • In the spring of 2015, Jennifer planted 20 acres of triticale (2 bushels per acre) with forage turnips (4 lb per acre) in attempts to graze the field before planting a grain crop. The spring was again wet and she only got 10 days of grazing on the field. This also ended up being very late in the spring/early summer and that field ended up not getting planted with a grain crop for 2015. The positive note about this scenario is that when we had drought-like conditions in June, the triticale was still green and growing. The turnips never developed.
  • In the spring of 2015, Justin harvested and ensiled around 3.5 tons per acre each of the triticale and winter wheat; Tony harvested, dried and baled 3 tons per acre of winter wheat and 3.9 tons per acre of triticale; and Kevin harvested around 4.4 tons per acre of winter wheat, 2.5 tons per acre of triticale and 3.5 tons per acre of the triticale and winter wheat mix.
  • In the fall of 2015, Justin, Jennifer, Tony and Tom planted cover crops. Tom took Kevin’s place and planted 38 acres of triticale and winter wheat mixed 50:50 at a rate of 3 bushels per acre total. Justin, Jennifer and Tony planted at the same rate as used in 2014.
  • In the spring of 2016, Jennifer grazed for 18 days prior to planting a grain crop; Tony harvested 3.4 tons per acre of triticale and 2.2 tons per acre of winter wheat for dried hay; Justin harvested 10.53 tons per acre of triticale and 6.1 tons per acre of wheat for silage; Tom harvested 8 tons per acre of the triticale and winter wheat mixture for dried hay.
  • We saw a later harvest in 2014 which led to a later planting time for the cover crop. With a late start and a wet spring, it was hard to harvest the cover crop and yields suffered. We had a much earlier harvest in 2015 allowing for an earlier planting of the cover crop and stand development for a hard frost. We believe this helped improve the cover crop yields in 2016.
  • Unfortunately, we had a wet spring again in 2016 and some of the cover crop harvested for dried hay was baled too wet. We saw some heat damage in these bales. The bales were stored both outside and under roof, so the heat damage was believed to be from harvested moisture content rather than rain accumulation during storage.
  • Through the analysis of the nutrient content of each forage product, we found triticale hay could meet the nutritional requirements for a mid-gestational cow, but falls short for late gestational and lactating cows. Winter wheat hay requires a supplement to meet the cow’s needs at all stages. When looking at silage, the winter wheat and triticale both meet the needs of the mid gestational and late gestational cow. The lactating cow only needs a bit of protein to meet her nutritional requirements. The triticale had a higher yield than the winter wheat in 2016 but comparable in 2015. We attribute that to weather conditions in the fall of 2014.
  • When we compared root depth of the cover crops, we found triticale went several inches deeper than winter wheat, in fact, the wheat stopped at the fragipan and started growing horizontally against the barrier whereas the triticale roots penetrated the fragipan layer and continued several inches through that layer. One sample went as far as 52 inches!
  • If we were to duplicate this research trial again, we would include fertilizer rates, make the planting rates the same, and maybe add even more acres. We would like to see several more years of data to make a better impact on potential yields.
  • Each producer manages a lot of farm land for their crop production. The biggest issue we found was timing and weather. In the first year we were late planting cover crop due to late grain crop harvest. In the spring, we had a hard time harvesting the cover crop due to weather conditions. We contributed poor yields to this as well. In the second year, we had better conditions at fall planting, but another wet spring.
  • The grazed acres were only available in the spring of the second year. We even delayed grazing because we were hoping to not tear up the ground before replanting with a grain crop
  • We were really happy about the boost in yields seen the second year, but because we saw no increase in the first year, the benefit of the boosted yields did not completely overcome the higher seed price for triticale.
  • Looking at a grazed forage, dried forage and ensiled forage gave other producers a chance to see how they might be able to use the cover crops in their normal management systems. We thought it gave variety in the variety of uses for the cover crop as a forage product
  • Each producer presented information about their trial plots at the 2016 field day for the farmers in attendance. We would gladly share our information again, if needed.

Impact of Results/Outcomes

Each producer was able to present information from their part of the trial at a field day. They gave information about their yields and forage quality as well as the hardships endured through the research trials. Each said they definitely learned something from the results and were going to keep using triticale as a cover crop and forage option for their cattle. 

Producers that attended the field days made comments about the information presented and even one came up to the extension educator at the field day to learn more about how to get their forage nutrition content analyzed.

There were some discussions about extending this research into a few more years and adding fertilizer trials to the data. 

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:
  • We presented this information to approximately 90 cattle producers in southern Indiana at two field days. We discussed scenarios for the nutritional requirements of different cattle needs as well as forage production efficiency at one field day. The second field day was focused more on the soil health and economic value of the cover crops used in the research trials. We also summarized the grant and concluded from the results that when choosing a cover crop, triticale would be a better choice for soil penetration and tonnage. If a producer was interested in a cover crop for just its nutritional value, there was not enough of a difference between the forage products to warrant a recommendation of one over the other. There are several other cover crops available of course, and we also discussed finding the cover crop that would meet the producer’s specific needs.
  • We evaluated participants at the field day in 2016 and found we were impacting well over 1200 head of cattle in Southern Indiana. Forty-five percent of the participants evaluated reported not really aware of the alternative forages were available to them before attending the field day. Of the participants evaluated, 36% reported using cover crops as hay already where others reported anything from cool season grasses to legume/grass hays. Fifty-four percent reported producing and feeding legume/grass hay for their livestock.
  • We were trying to reach producers who not only fed cattle, but also raised grain crops and 54% reported they also raised some sort of grain crop. We asked if they presently used cover crops on their grain crop fields and about 20% put a cover crop on every acre and 20% puts them on about half. 60% said they did not use any cover crop. After the field day, 82% said they had a better understanding of their options when choosing cover crops.
  • When asked to comment on their forage nutritional value, only 16% said they sampled their hay most of the time. After attending the field day, 42% said they would begin to take forage samples so they could assess how to feed their herd through the winter. Thirty-five percent also felt they had a better understanding of their cow’s nutritional needs and what hay should be fed at different times during the gestation period. Overall, 17% said they would make adjustments to their forage options, commenting that would look for other cover crops besides winter wheat to use and incorporate more cool-season grasses into the mixture.
  • We plan to continue working with the Extension Educator and campus specialists to turn these results into a couple fact sheets for producers. We would like one to be on nutritional assessment of forage for gestational and lactating cows and another on how to choose the right cover crop for grain crop fields.

Project Outcomes

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

We discussed scenarios for the nutritional requirements of different cattle needs as well as forage production efficiency at one field day. The second field day was focused more on the soil health and economic value of the cover crops used in the research trials. We also summarized the grant and concluded from the results that when choosing a cover crop, triticale would be a better choice for soil penetration and tonnage. If a producer was interested in a cover crop for just its nutritional value, there was not enough of a difference between the forage products to warrant a recommendation of one over the other.

Future Recommendations

If we were to duplicate this research trial again, we would include fertilizer rates, make the planting rates the same, and maybe add even more acres. We would like to see several more years of data to make a better impact on potential yields

We would also like to see root depth on other cover crops to show the impact on soil health

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.