Utilization of Highly Digestible Cover Crop Ensilage by Adult Swine In an Integrated Organic Farming System

Progress report for FNC19-1174

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2019: $22,060.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2021
Grant Recipient: Wildwood Farm
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Russ Kremer
Wildwood Farm
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Project Information

Description of operation:

My farm consists of a diverse 150 acres located in the northern Ozarks of Missouri. I have a 120 sow farrow to finish swine operation using heritage breeds and selling into an antibiotic-free, Non-GMO certified market. The production practices are third party certified GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) Level 4, meaning the hogs are never in crates and have access to pasture. Humane treatment and sustainable practices are of paramount importance. I use organic practices on all of my land. I grow small grain crops of wheat, barley, rye, oats and buckwheat as well as milo and green beans in a rotational strategy. I allow my hogs to rotationally graze and apply hog manure according to soil test recommendations. The harvested grain is fed back to the hogs. I also mange my woodlands sustainably and have controlled grazing with my hogs. The other 2 farmer team members, Grant Neuner and Scott Stieferman, share similar philosophy and passion for sustainable food and agriculture. These two young farmers are also from Osage County, MO. The Neuner farm is a sustainable 250-acre farrow-to-finish closed herd of heritage bloodlines of Berkshire, Yorkshire and Tamworth. They currently have on hand 8 boars and 50 gilts/sows and use all-in all-out methods to raise 400 market pigs per year. Grant Neuner, 20, has participated in farming his entire life. He plans to stay on the family farm and continue to build a sustainable and organic hog operation as well as grass finish cattle. Scott Stieferman's farm is 120 acres with enterprises of farrow-to-finish hogs and grass-fed beef. He uses sustainable and regenerative practices such as rotational grazing for all livestock. Scott Stieferman has also worked on the family farm his entire life. The three of us have collaborated on other successful sustainable agriculture projects such as the sustainable pork marketing network, Heritage Foods. Research Results and Discussion section shows the participation levels of each research participant.


Consumer demand for safe, high quality organic pork products continues to grow significantly while farmers are reluctant to supply this demand primarily because of the high cost of traditional organic grains for feed. Moreover, keeping hogs healthy in an organic swine system is imperative, and implementing a cereal grain cover crop is a vital agronomic practice. This project aims to resolve these particular barriers through research, education and demonstration of the utilization of highly digestible cover crop ensilage by breeding and finishing swine in an integrated organic farming system. A cooperative network of community based, sustainable pig farmers, with an emphasis on young farmers, will perform the tasks of the project.

Project Objectives:
  1. Research reduction in feed expense of organic swine operations by using homegrown cover crop ensilage.
  2. Maintain records of health, mortality and number of qualifying hogs while providing silage year-round.
  3. Research and demonstrate an economical and practical incorporation of highly digestible sustainably harvested cover crops in an integrated swine operation.
  4. Eliminate economic barriers for entry of young farmers into organic agriculture by reducing organic feed costs.
  5. Research and demonstrate adaptation of advancements in sustainable agriculture techniques pioneered in Europe including a feeding system which is adaptable to diverse needs.


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Materials and methods:

This is a feeding trial, which builds on a trial in the United Kingdom which fed ensilage to hogs for better nutrition and a more sustainable system. In order to perform this trial, a European feeding system will be purchased to feed ensilage, which requires a completely different delivery system than dry feed. Records will be kept of amount of feed used, growth, mortality and health rates of hogs.

This project involves two young Osage County farmers who have over 10 years experience in animal husbandry and certifications by National Pork Producers and Global Alliance Partnership.

Scientific method will be used, including tissue analysis of cover crops used for ensilage and manure analysis. Results will be carefully documented and shared through the use of flyers, presentations at conferences, social media, a comprehensive manual and farm field days.

Research results and discussion:

Results in the first year include:

Tissue analysis of growing cover crop for feed:  The analysis, on a dry matter basis, is 14.1%.  This compares to 12% for traditional cereal grain cover crop tissue analysis and 14% requirement for growing finishing hogs and adult sows and boars.

The health of the soil improved based on the earthworm population.  On April 15, 2020, the earthworm population was measured in the cover crop’s plot and measured 23 earthworms per cubic foot of soil, compared to November 15, 2019 measurement in the same plot of 14 earthworms and 8 earthworms from a check plot on April 15, 2020 of a conventional crop field. 

The May, 2020 cover crop harvest showed above average yields in the research plots of 6.3 tons per acre compared to 5.1 tons per acre that is commonly harvested from standard cereal grains.


Russ Kremer, Grant Neuner and Scott Stieferman were much involved in the research during the first year of this project.  In September, 2019, the three of us sowed a total of 45 acres with a mixture of rye and Austrian winter pea in 3 fields on our farms.  Kremer selected the seed varieties based on predicted nutritional analysis for an ideal ration for adult hogs.  Neuner and Stieferman managed the soil preparation and seeding and designed an agronomic management plan. That plan was followed and resulted in high yields of highly nutritious forages.  Kremer selected and purchased silage feeders from Eurogan as well as storage bins and throughout October Kremer, Neuner and Stieferman installed them.  Stieferman, with engineering and mechanization skills provided the supervision.  Also in October, Kremer and Neuner took soil and manure samples to be analyzed and applied manure to the plots accordingly.  Throughout November, Kremer analyzed traditional feed requirements for breeding and finishing hogs and researched nutrient content of traditional forages for swine.  In April, 2020, the three cooperators performed tissue analysis of the growing cover crop mixture in field. Throughout the last half of May, 2020, Kremer, Neuner, Stieferman harvested the cover crop silage.  During the first year, Neuner connected with new, beginning and transitional farmers on social media.  He successfully reached out to 52 farmers via text, Facebook and Instagram and received positive responses/likes from 31.    

Participation Summary
3 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

12 Consultations
2 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
2 On-farm demonstrations
1 Online trainings
1 Published press articles, newsletters
1 Tours
1 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Workshop field days
1 Grant Neuner, one of our young farmer participants, has been using social media to highlight and demonstrate our project activities.

Participation Summary

38 Farmers
4 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

I have had tours, demonstrations and a field day to demonstrate the management practices of the cover crops and explain the nutritional value of the cover crops for finishing adult swine.  I also demonstrated the different types of feeders used in Europe to feed swine.  I have also presented a webinar hosted by the Practical Farmers of Iowa and have presented before cooperative managers at the Midwest Coop Meeting.  There has been a total of 12 professional animal nutritionists that have met with me to discuss economic performance and health advantages.  The tours and workshop were attended by 15 neighboring hog farmers, mostly in the Heritage Foods system.  Four of those farmers showed strong interest in using this method for an organic transition.

Learning Outcomes

22 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Lessons Learned:

In the first year of this grant project, we learned that cover crops can excel in an integrated livestock and cropping system as the balanced application of swine manure has contributed to significant forage growth.  We also learned that a cover crop mix of hybrid rye/winter pea helps with growth and weed control and tissue analysis indicates the mixture has a near perfect nutritional analysis (14% protein dry matter basis) for feeding finishing pigs and mature breeding stock. We also learned, while installing feeder equipment, that the ideal number of pigs per feeder space is five.  So far, beneficial effects on the farm has been observed in lush cover crops that have greatly reduced erosion and improved the ecology of the soil and surrounding environment.  The tissue analysis of the cover crops show remarkable outcome as a potential replacement for purchased swine feedstuffs.  This will result in economical, health and meat quality benefits. The choice of cover crop mixture and resulting tissue analysis successfully overcame the barrier and worry that forages would not provide the nutrient profile required by swine.  Advantages of implementing this project include turning a cover crop into an additional cash crop, soil health improvement, feed cost savings in a swine operation, improvement of herd health and meat quality, and improved farm profitability.  Disadvantages include additional time, labor and management requirements to sow, manage and harvest cover crops as well as time and special equipment to feed the swine.  At this time, I would highly recommend this practice because of all the sustainability benefits – in particular to young farmers facing barriers to entry. 


Project Outcomes

11 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
1 Grant received that built upon this project
4 New working collaborations
Success stories:

A swine nutritionist/consultant based in northern Illinois reviewed the tissue analysis of the rye/pea and remarked “I was blown away by the resulting analysis that showed, based on a dry matter basis, that this forage contained an ideal balance of protein, energy, and fat required by finishing swine over 125 pounds and boars and sows.  This practice has tremendous application on the farms of many of my clients.”


After I described this project on a webinar in January, four farmers from Iowa called and said they were inspired to implement a similar program on their farm.

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.