The project sought to find alternative annual forage crops that could be used as winter feed for cattle.
Colorado’s San Luis Valley, at about 7,500 feet, has a growing season of 90 to 100 days, with the last spring freeze around June 10 and the first fall freeze around Sept. 6. Producer John Haws wants to maintain 130 cows on 130 acres of center-pivot-irrigated land, half used for summer feed and half used for winter feed. In recent years, he’s come up short on winter feed, so he’s looking for a crop that will produce enough feed on 65 acres to feed 130 cows for 150 to 180 days.
Haws and technical advisor Marvin Reynolds set up five 1-acre plots, each planted to a crop or crop combination. The 5 acres, used for summer pasture the previous year, were ripped to 16 inches, chisel plowed and culta-packed in mid May then planted on June 5 with a John Deere 752 no-till drill. Fertilizer at planting, except where noted under the results, was 11-52-0 with the seed and 66-0-0 banded between every other row. On July 14, an application of 23-0-0 plus 5 S and 0.5 Zn was applied through the sprinkler. The production was measured with a formula (found in Baldridge Hybrids sale literature) that assumes the cow consumes 2.5% of body weight in dry matter per day.
Plot 1 was planted to field corn (Agri Pro Hybrid AP072 with relative maturity in 70 days) at 10 pounds an acre and Latah peas (a non-determinate variety from Washington) at 75 pounds. One row of corn was planted with three rows of peas. The corn grew to around 6 feet tall with the peas climbing the stalks. The corn was nitrogen deficient, turning yellow late in the season. The Baldridge formula measured 7.8 tons dry matter produced on the 1-acre plot.
Plot 2 was planted to Spring Snow sweet corn and Spring Treat sweet corn at 5 pounds an acre and Latah peas at 75 pounds, with one row of corn and three rows of peas. The sweet corn seed costs about $7 a pound compared with hybrid corn at $1.25. The corn tasseled by Aug. 3 and produced some grain by early freeze, although the volume was lower than the hybrid variety. The Baldridge formula measured 4.84 tons of dry matter per acre.
Pearl millet at 13 pounds an acre and Latah peas at 100 pounds were planted in Plot 3, double drilled with added 11-52-0. The peas grew but the millet did poorly, probably because of low nighttime temperatures. Using the Baldridge formula, the plot produced 3.23 tons per acre.
Plot 4 was planted to Pearl millet at 13 pounds an acre and oats at 100 pounds. The plot was double drilled and 11-52-0 was added. The millet had poor survival and most of the oats had shattered in December when the cows were turned in, so the only feed available was simple oat straw. The Baldridge formula showed production of 3.23 tons per acre.
Plot 5 was planted to Pearl millet at 20 pounds an acre. About all that grew on the plot were volunteer wheat, wild oats and weeds. Using Baldridge, the plot produced 2.01 tons an acre.
“The corn/pea combination really seems to show a possible combination that will increase production per acre by about 2 tons,” says Haws. “This will allow me to carry about 20 more cows over a pea/oat mix.”
He says corn and peas costs a little more and additional fertilizer is required, but he saves about $25 a ton in windrowing and baling expenses.
This research shows that livestock producers in a high-elevation, short-season area can find alternative feed sources that allow them to increase the carrying capacity of their land.
FARMER ADOPTION AND DIRECT IMPACT
In the time since the original plots were done, Haws has incorporated the corn/pea combination into his operation, planting a Baldridge hybrid variety called Amazing Grace at 20,000 seeds per acre. He mixes in Latah peas at 50 pounds an acre and plants strips of Samson turnips about 4 feet wide. Haws notes that early freezes and hail damage have prevented him from duplicating the trial’s total dry matter tonnage, and he’s not managing the cattle as intensively, moving them every five days instead of daily.
Also, in the two years following the research, two operations in the area have used information from the project to incorporate standing corn into their winter-feed program.
FUTURE RECOMMENDATIONS OR NEW HYPOTHESES
Producers should be cautious using Pearl millet combinations, which produce poorly because of low temperatures. Sweet corn also appears to be a poor option because it fails to produce enough tonnage and its cost is too high for the amount of feed produced.
DISSEMINATION OF FINDINGS
Haws conducted two on-farm tours during the growing season, made two presentations at local meetings, put signs at the field edge near a paved highway describing the project and responded to numerous queries from visitors. The first farm tour, which lasted nearly four hours, involved 15 people, about half livestock and farm-production people and the other half from government agencies. The second included his plots on part of a larger tour, attended by 12 people including bankers, media and some people new to the area who had purchased small acreages and were looking for ideas. His first presentation was at the Monte Vista Hay and Forage Conference in 1999, discussing the SARE project results. The second, in 2001 at the Potato and Grain Conference, also in Monte Vista, discussed the potential for rotating the corn/pea combination with potatoes and small grains.
John Haws, the project leader, was the main producer involved in the project.