Harvesting and Feeding Winter Rye, Winter Triticale, and other Alternative Forages to Dairy and Beef Cattle

Progress report for ONC21-083

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2021: $40,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2024
Grant Recipient: University of Wisconsin Madison
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Luiz Ferraretto
University of Wisconsin - Madison
Liz Binversie
University of Wisconsin Madison
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Project Information


Currently, forage shortages are a major challenge. Polar vortices and inconsistent snow cover have resulted in several years of alfalfa winterkill. Furthermore, frequent and heavy rains have delayed corn silage planting and harvest, creating forage quality and quantity issues. To restore lost feed inventory, there has been an increase in planting of winter rye and winter triticale after corn silage and sorghum or other crop species to replace damaged alfalfa fields. For the purposes of this grant, they will be called “alternative forages”. There is a unique window of opportunity to study best feeding practices, while also supporting continuous soil cover throughout the year. We will also study the economic implications to help farmers make financially sustainable decisions. Compared to the limited window for grazing, mechanical harvesting and storage allows farms to feed many more acres. This project builds on two years of pilot research. Funding will allow us to greatly expand our numbers and get more statistically valid data. Our previous focus group research found that dairy nutrition consultants and farms need research-based feeding recommendations. Changing the mentality that alternative forages are inferior forages is an innovative way to increase acres covered and adoption of year-round soil cover.

Project Objectives:
  • Collect and analyze alternative forage samples from 30 farms across Wisconsin
  • Collect farm data including planting date, harvest date, yield (if available), estimated expenses to calculate cost of production, and forage inclusion in rations
  • Compare yields and forage quality from these on-farm data samples to studies under controlled conditions
  • Develop feeding guidelines for dairy and beef animals based on forage quality data and computer modeling software program
  • Develop presentation(s), fact sheet(s), article(s), videos, and/or online learning module
  • Organize field days (planting, harvesting, and feeding), that may include online options (webinar, videos)


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Materials and methods:

Extension colleagues were contacted to determine their interest to participate of project and help project team to identify farms willing to participate. 

Briefly, 15 farms had samples collected and others were identified for collection this year. 

Farms that participate:

  • Coordinate with Extension personnel  
  • Provide farm, crop, and animal data
  • Participate in end of project interview/evaluation

Forage samples were collected at the time of harvest and two times throughout the feed out period. Samples were analyzed for nutrient composition and silage quality. Yield is measured or estimated.  Ration information is requested. A survey is requested for future economic analysis.


For some of these farms the feedout period samples will be collected this Fall.


Research results and discussion:

Samples collected and analyzed were added to a database. The goal of this database is to understand variation of various cover crops used as forages in Wisconsin. This database was (And will be after more results are compiled) used for ration simulations and extension programming. 

Participation Summary
15 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

8 Consultations
2 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Other educational activities: Data was utilized to updated the nutrition module of the DY SCI 233 - Dairy Herd Management course offered to undergraduates

Participation Summary:

68 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Consultation was considered any email, phone call or in person discussion which required the use of any information generated by this project.

Preliminary data of this project was utilized for one in person and another online presentation. 

Ferraretto*, L. F. Research update – from silage fermentation to feeding behavior. Ag Partners Coop Meeting. Goodhue, MN. (02/09; 40 attendants; in person presentation)

Ferraretto*, L. F. 2022. Research update – cocktail mix silage fermentation. Badger Dairy Insights Series – Ins and outs of cocktail forage mixes for dairy rations” (03/01; 28 attendants; online presentation)

Furthermore, it was used to update material utilized for teaching undergraduate students (nutrition module of DY SCI 233 Fall 2022). This material will be used again this upcoming Fall. 

Diet formulation analysis and ongoing sample analysis will be utilized to update teaching material, factsheets and future online and in person presentations.


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.