Extending the Grazing Season and Integrating Crops and Livestock to Sustain Small Farms and Ranches in the Southern Rockies

Final Report for SW07-606

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2007: $7,381.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Western
State: New Mexico
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Steven Guldan
New Mexico State University
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Project Information


Improving the ability of small farms of the Southern Rocky Mountains to provide additional forage during more of the year could increase the productivity and profitability of these farms. The objective of this project was to extend the information gained from a 1990s Western SARE-funded project (of the same title) to more farmers and ranchers. Through slide presentations and tours of demonstration plots of relay-interseeded annual forages into standing crops of sweet corn and chile, more than 200 growers, students, and faculty learned of our application of the concept of relay-interseeding and results from the original research study.

Project Objectives:

1. At the Alcalde Sustainable Agriculture Science Center, establish demonstration plots based on previous interseeding research. Included were demonstration plots of experimental treatments from our sweet corn interseeding grazing study (five plots), as well as additional plots of chile pepper relay-interseeded with annual forages (five plots).

2. Present demonstration plots at two field days.

3. Present a seminar on original project’s results as part of the fall 2008 or spring 2009 seminar series in the department of Plant and Environmental Sciences at New Mexico State University’s main campus in Las Cruces, NM.

4. Produce a journal article and extension publication based on the sweet corn interseeding grazing study.


Farming and ranching, and usually a combination of both, have been an important way of life in the Southern Rockies for many generations. Most of the irrigated farms are relatively small and are family-run. In north central New Mexico, for example, most are less than 20 acres (Acequias, 1991). Farms are either family-owned or, on tribal lands, are family-run farm assignments or allotments.

Developing ways to increase the ability of small farms to provide additional forage during more of the year (i.e., extend the grazing season) could significantly affect their ability to continue farming and ranching, particularly in the face of restrictions being imposed on public grazing.

Crop residues are frequently grazed to add economic value to them. However, they are generally of low forage quality (Wedin and Klopfenstein, 1985). Sweet corn in particular is a high-value vegetable crop which leaves significant amounts of residue after the ears are harvested. A second, interseeded crop of high forage quality could greatly increase the ability of these residues to support livestock. Cereals have high forage value when in the vegetative stage (Rao and Horn, 1995). Hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth) is a productive winter annual legume that has been used primarily as a green manure (Chamblee and Spooner, 1985; Hargrove, 1986) and on a less extensive basis as a forage (Chamblee and Spooner, 1985). Forage brassicas are generally cold tolerant and high in nutritional value (Rao and Horn, 1995). The degree to which the forage value of cash-crop residue such as sweet corn stover could be enhanced by overseeding a forage crop into it is not well understood.

A Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education project funded in the 1990s sought, in part, to research a system of relay-interseeding annual forages into sweet corn to extend the fall grazing season and provide additional high-quality forage in the spring. This study was a key part of our original research and our results indicated its promise for significantly increasing productivity given the great, generally untapped, potential for maximizing use of the growing season in our semi-arid environment through relay-intercropping.

It has been several years since any plots visually representative of this project’s field studies have been presented at field days. In addition, a large portion of recent field day attendees in recent years have indicated by a show of hands that they had not visited the station before. This is not surprising as many new people appear to be entering agriculture; these include young or middle aged children taking over land operations from their parents as well as new people moving to the area with the desire to enter agriculture for the first time – many of these people are looking for new ideas and approaches, particularly sustainable agriculture approaches. For all these reasons, a special effort to extending project results at this time was warranted.


Materials and methods:

We planted the following demonstration plots:

Sweet corn, relay-interseeded with turnip, oats, hairy vetch, winter rye, and a control (no interseeded crop); each sweet corn-interseeded crop combination was a separate demonstration plot.
Chile-pepper interseeded with turnip, oats, hairy vetch, winter rye, and a control (no interseeded crop); each chile pepper-interseeded crop combination was a separate demonstration plot.

The field’s previous crop was an established cover crop of red clover. Plots were prepared by disking, rototilling, and preparing beds with a rolling-tine cultivator. Fertilization followed general local recommendations. A mid-season sweet corn cultivar and several varieties of chile pepper transplants (one variety per row) were planted in late May on beds 36 inches apart at recommended densities. Each demonstration plot was four rows wide. Sweet corn plots were about 40 feet long and chile plots about 15 feet long. Weeds were controlled with the rolling-tine cultivator and by hand. Interseeded crops were hand sown into the standing corn and chile peppers in early July; seed was lightly incorporated into the soil. Crops were furrow-irrigated as needed. Plots were labeled for observation during field days.

During the presentation of the demonstration plots at the field days, and at the seminar, the number in attendance was counted. At field days, feedback was obtained to estimate the number and percentage of participants who: a) learned about interseeding for the first time, b) indicated they may try an interseeding approach based on our demonstration plots and/or original project results. At the seminar, feedback was obtained from students to estimate the number and percentage who learned about interseeding or the potential for interseeding in New Mexico for the first time. Feedback was obtained from faculty who teach crop production or related courses on interest or willingness to incorporate project results into a course.

Research results and discussion:

The demonstration plots were featured on one of the tour tracks during the general Alcalde Science Center field day held on August 5, 2008. A total of 308 registered for the field day. The tour track that included the demonstration plots ran twice and had a total of about 120 people. Twenty-seven indicated they had learned of relay-interseeding for the first time (23%) and 10-13 people (8-11%) indicated they may now try it themselves. Leonard Lauriault, New Mexico State University forage specialist, attended specifically to discuss forage aspects of the system demonstrated.

A seminar entitled “Relay-Intercropping for Season Extension in North-Central New Mexico” was presented August 29, 2008, to the Plant and Environmental Sciences Department at New Mexico State University as part of their fall Graduate Enrichment seminar series. Twelve students and about 13 faculty attended. Eleven students were already familiar with the concept of relay-intercropping (92%), but one was not. The topic of interseeding/relay-intercropping seemed to already be covered in the crop production courses offered by the faculty.

Instead of a fall field day, the second formal presentation of the demonstration plots was held in the spring as part of a chile workshop April 16, 2009. Forty people registered for the workshop. An indoor presentation was given on relay-interseeding that included slides from the original SARE-funded interseeding grazing study. This presentation was followed by a walking tour of the demonstration plots. The plots displayed the green spring growth of hairy vetch and winter rye coming up between the dry residue/stems of the previous year’s crops of sweet corn and chile. The turnip overwintered and was actively growing. The oats had matured the previous fall and so were brown, yet indicated significant production for fall grazing. By a show of hands, three or four in the group hadn’t previously heard of interseeding. When the group was asked who may try interseeding based on the presentation and viewing of the demonstration plots, close to 50% raised their hands. The Western SARE online link (http://wsare.usu.edu/pro/fieldrep_00/pdf/refinal/sw95018.pdf) of the original project’s final report and information on obtaining the more detailed hard copy of the final report are being sent to over 200 people on an email list.

In addition to the above planned events and presentations, the demonstration plots were shown to other individuals and groups from late summer 2008 to mid-spring of 2009, including to the Western SARE Administrative Council on August 6, 2008.

Progress was made on the research paper, although it was not ready for submission by the end of the project. The extension publication will incorporate results included in the research paper and so will follow publication of the research paper.

Literature Cited

Acequias. 1991. New Mexico State Engineer Office, Santa Fe, NM.

Chamblee, D.S., and A.E. Spooner. 1985. Hay and pasture seedings for the humid south. p. 366-367. In M.E. Heath, R.F. Barnes, and D.S. Metcalfe (ed.) Forages, the science of grassland agriculture. 4th ed. Iowa State Univ. Press. Ames, IA.

Hargrove, W.L. 1986. Winter legumes as a nitrogen source for no-till grain sorghum. Agron. J. 78:70-74.

Rao, S.C., and F.P. Horn. 1995. Cereals and Brassicas for forage. p. 451-462. In R.F. Barnes, D.A. Miller, and C.J. Nelson (ed.) Forages – Volume I: An introduction to grassland agriculture. 5th ed. Iowa State Univ. Press. Ames, IA.

Wedin, W.F., and T.J. Klopfenstein. 1985. Cropland pastures and crop residues. p. 500-501. In M.E. Heath, R.F. Barnes, and D.S. Metcalfe (ed.) Forages, the science of grassland agriculture. 4th ed. Iowa State Univ. Press. Ames, IA.

Research conclusions:

A number of producers and other participants were introduced to relay-interseeding in row crops as a method to increase production through combining frost tolerant forages with frost sensitive vegetable row crops. More than 200 people are estimated to have seen the demonstration plots. In addition, many others were reached through a local newspaper article that reported on the spring workshop presentation.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

For education and outreach activities, please refer to the Results and Discussion section, above.

A research paper is being prepared. An extension publication will incorporate results included in the research paper and so will follow publication of the research paper.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Not applicable.

Farmer Adoption

Please refer to the Results and Discussion section, above, for the number of people reached. These people include farmers, ranchers, gardeners, and the general public.

Recommendations: Interseeding annual forages into sweet corn and chile row crops (for example, interseeded spring oats and turnip for fall grazing, and winter rye and hairy vetch for spring grazing) can significantly increase total forage available.


Areas needing additional study

Research needed on grazing management of corn stover + interseeded forage combinations. Additional research on grazing response by mother cows and perhaps sheep or goats. Length of time needed for ruminants to adjust to interseeded combinations is also an area for further research.

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.