Evaluating Different Forages in a Rotational Grazing System

Final Report for FNC93-054

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1993: $3,099.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1994
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $52,263.00
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


We have a family fairy farm which includes 150 acres. Eighty eight acres are in corn production and 62 acres if tillable land is used for rotational grazing and bailed hay harvesting. An additional 26 acres are used strictly for rotational grazing due to rocky conditions. We currently have 40 milking cows and 35 young stock. Corn is used primarily as corn silage. This year we also harvested approximately 2000 bushels for grain usage.

Before receiving this grant we have been rotational grazing our young stock on about 35 acres. After forage testing the pastures throughout the 1993 growing season, it was apparent that the young stock were eating higher quality forage than what we were putting up for our milking cows. The pasture that the young stock were on was an old hay field which had been planted 8 years prior to grazing. If this type of pasture could out yield our milking cow feed, we wanted to know what type of grasses and legumes would out produce our young stock pasture.

That land around our dairy barn had been corn for the previous 4 years. Some of this land is highly erodible crop land. It would be a place to convert to grazing and run a trial on which type of grass was best for pasturing the milking herd.

Tom Cadwallader, UW Extension agent, worked with us to design the layout of fence and water systems. Arlan Anderson, North central Technical Ag Instructor, helped with forage analysis and feed rationing.

In 1993, we stored our manure during the summer. This manure was fall applied to 10 acres prior to ground freezing. We hauled daily during the winter applied ti to the 10 acres at approximately 40 tons per acre. This provided 120 lbs. N, 120 lbs. P 0, 350 lbs. K 0 and 40 lbs. sulfur form manure alone. Manure was incorporated by disking. Maximum disk depth into soil was 2.5-3 inches. We disked 3 times in order to mix soil and manure thoroughly. This also provided loose soil for good seed soil contact.

We planted 22 acres on August 10, 1993 in the following plots.
- 6 acres red clover
- 6 acres red clover and timothy
- 10 acres red clover, timothy, alfalfa, and orchard grass
On April 10, we planted 18 acres in the following plots.
- 3 acres red clover
- 3 acres red clover and timothy
- 3 acres red clover and reed canary
- 3 acres red clover and orchard grass
- 6 acres red clover, timothy and orchard grass
In addition, we planted 88 acres of corn. Our corn is utilized in our feed ration primarily in winter as corn silage.

In January of 1994 we were informed that the person who does custom corn planting was moving and would not be planting in the 1994 season. This really put a pinch on our field work. I decided to buy a 6 row corn planter and custom plant for my neighbors who were also at a loss. This added 600 acres of corn for me to plant in the spring.

Looking forward to a busy spring, I started erecting a perimeter fence around the 40 acres in early April. We used treated wood posts that were installed at intervals of 200 feet. Al holes were dug by hand. We installed 7 gates. Four rows of high tensile wire were strung around the perimeter with 2 strands electrified and 2 strands ground return line. I ran an electric line dug under the gates to allow for continues current even while the gates are open. We use portable fencing to make paddocks.

Our watering system is very simple but quite effective. We purchased 800 feet of 1” black NSF plastic pipe and ran the water from the barn to the paddocks. At the end of the pipe we attached a garden hose which was hooked up to an anti-siphon float valve. We placed it in a 55 gallon plastic drum that was cut in half. As we move the cows to different paddocks, we move the barrel.

We began pasturing the cows on May 24. we had hoped to let them out of the sooner, however, fall planted pasture did not establish itself as quickly as anticipated. Once the cows were on pasture we established a circular rotation around the 40 acres. On June 9 we began to bale hay off the pasture that the cows had not yet grazed. Throughout the growing season we baled approximately 2000 bales. We also rotated the cows throughout all 40 acres 4 times. We began supplementing the pasture forage with green chopped silage in mid October. In mid November we stopped pasturing the cows.

We have come to the conclusion that the spring planting of a combination of red clover, timothy, and orchard grass is the best choice for our farm for the following reasons.
- The cows did not show a greater interest in the other test plots and we saw no change in production when moving from one paddock to another
- This combination had greater plant density than the other plots
- The reed canary did not establish itself
- Because of the late planting date of the alfalfa, it did not have the seeding density that it could have had if planted in the spring or earlier in the fall
- Although the straight red clover plot was higher in protein, it did not dry down well for baled hay and had a lower dry matter production.

As we establish more pasture land we will either plant before July 15 for the following growing season or plant in early April. We will use the combination of 40% red clover, 30% timothy and 30% orchard grass.

Before we received this grant we had been rotational grazing our heifers for the previous years. We found it to be economical. However, we were very pleased to get the great results with out milking herd. We saved money on grain which we found we could slightly reduce and we did not need to purchase hay. Another benefit was that we were able to take erodible land and establish a firm foundation that will not need to be plowed and disked again. One of the most important benefits for our family is the reduction of labor and time. With rotational grazing one person can feed, move animals and watering system, and put up paddock fence with the added benefit of getting in daily walks and social time with our two young children. This frees up the other person for other chores.

We have done a number of different things to let other know of our findings.
- We have given individual field tours
- We have had telephone consultations
- We have shared our results with Tom Cadwallader and Arlan Anderson and asked them to relay this information to those they speak with
- We have shared our information with our farming class we are taking through North central Technical College
- We have given information to farming neighbors
- We attended field days and told about our experiences


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.