Seed Salad Mix for Planned Paddock Renovation

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2008: $1,064.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:


  • Agronomic: millet, oats, sorghum (milo), sunflower
  • Vegetables: radishes (culinary)
  • Animals: bovine, sheep


  • Animal Production: pasture renovation, grazing - rotational, winter forage
  • Crop Production: crop rotation, cover crops, double cropping, no-till, nutrient cycling, conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: soil microbiology, soil quality/health

    Proposal summary:

    Managed grazing paddocks with introduced species can experience a decline in production after 5-7 years, a tired pasture syndrome. Renovating these paddocks, reinvigorates the soil and plant community thereby improving production. Our farm is located in the Driftless Region, an unglaciated area characterized by rugged topography, bisected with numerous streams and rivers. There is still a significant dairy and livestock industry present but this has been shrinking. This region is recognized as one of the major contributors to the growing hypoxia zone in the Gulf of Mexico. As a result of the reduction in livestock production and with it forage production and intensification of row crop agriculture, soil and water quality issues are likely to increase. Many parts of the driftless area are better suited to perennial forage based systems, incorporating ruminant livestock and forages. Managed grazing is one tool that can conserve and improve soil and water quality, provide wildlife habitat and reduce nutrient flows in to the Mississippi River and gulf. Our farm has been in managed grazing for over 20 years, with 105 acres of permanent perennial pastures as well as 135 acres tillable ground that has been seeded into legume/grass mixtures for haying and grazing. Historically, half of our annual forage production comes in May and June. We can allow it grow into summer resulting in very low quality forage, we can vary our stocking rate and match livestock numbers to forage production, or we can harvest this period of excess as conserved forage for drought and winter feeding periods. While we utilize all three strategies to some degree, we are mostly involved with the third option. Following 1st cutting of forage, these fields are added into the grazing rotation to match animal demands. Throughout the growing season, animals are rotated through paddocks every 1/2 - 1 1/2 days to no more than 3 days/paddock leaving a 4-5 inch residual. After a period of 5-7 years, productivity in these "improved" paddocks of tillable ground show a decline in yields. We take into account any mechanical crop removal, budget manure applied through grazing, composted bedded pack manure applied, and make up any nutrient deficit with commercial fertilizer. Rotating out of forage for a season, and renovating the paddock back into forage in the subsequent year has been our traditional response. These younger, renovated stands are more productive than the older stands they replaced. The renovation phase has been a year of row cropping generally to corn or small grains, which is what I would like to find a way to replace. Soil erosion potential is low with grass/legume plow down, but is not zero. Forage production is absent in the grain phase and greatly reduced in the re-seeding year, limiting overall livestock carrying capacity. The goal of this project is to replace the row crop phase with an annual "seed salad" seeded following 1st harvest of forage. I would like to examine total seasonal forage production, forage production of the "seed salad" mix, and forage quality of the mix. The "seed salad" would be grazed in the fall and then the field re-seeded the following spring. Mechanical harvest and ensiling or dry baling is an option, but one I do not plan to address with this project. I would also like to leave two strips within the field with a simple binary annual mix, and then monitor these in subsequent years to see if there are any demonstrated changes in soil fertility as a result of having this type of renovation performed. Feed costs represent the single largest expense in livestock and dairy production. Forage costs for production and harvest have greatly escalated in the past two seasons. One of the arguments for corn silage is the amount of tonnage/acre it is capable of delivering. Depending upon yield and forage quality results, this "seed salad" strategy could also be used to replace corn silage on some more erodible acres for both livestock and dairy enterprises. The planned seed salad is comprised of: Chickling Vetch, Berseem Clover, Forage Soybeans, Pearl Millet, Teff, BMR Sudangrass, Oats and Brassica. For the past several years USDA-ARS and USDA-NRCS has been investigating diverse "seed salad" mixes in ground left fallow following wheat harvest in North Dakota. Their investigation show that as the diversity of grass, legumes and forbs both cool and warm season, increased to 6-8 species, so too did forage yield per acre over single species seedings and simple mixes. Furthermore, they have observed that the above and below ground biomass contributed larger amounts of carbon to the soil resulting in higher levels of production in subsequent years. The species selected for North Dakota climate condition are not ideally suited for Wisconsin conditions. Also, in North Dakota, fields with the mix were seeded back to small grains, here we would be re-establish grass/legume mixes of perennial forage. Grazing is supposed to improve soil organic matter, soil tests over time confirm higher OM, but after an initial period, OM stops increasing. The connection between organic soil carbon and fertility is clear. The management necessary to continue increasing soil carbon is not.

    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.