How does the rotational grazing of poultry on cover crop land on a vegetable farm affect soil health and economic success?

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2009: $6,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Mark Boen
Bluebird Gardens

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: oats
  • Animals: poultry


  • Animal Production: free-range, grazing management, manure management, grazing - rotational
  • Crop Production: cover crops
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, community-supported agriculture, marketing management, agritourism
  • Production Systems: holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: green manures, soil analysis, nutrient mineralization, soil microbiology, soil chemistry
  • Sustainable Communities: employment opportunities

    Proposal summary:

    Vegetable farmers are on their own. There is no safety net that other farmers enjoy ... no multi-peril insurance and no government supports. So what can we do? Offering a wide range of products to our customers is our best economic plan. The addition of pasture-fed poultry and sheep to our farm could have a long-term financial impact. In addition, manyconsumers today really do want to "'know their farmer" and are no longer content with the factory farm. Interest in pastured animals that are raised as they were in decades past is escalating. The problem is finding the most efficient way to do it.

    Furthermore, the practice of using cover crops is centuries old. The question is, "Which ones are best for rotational grazing and building the soil?" We plan to buy an old school bus without an engine to become the traveling shelter for the sheep and chickens. The seats will provide wonderful roosts for the chickens at night. A bus is high enough to provide shelter for the sheep. We will also build an awning on the side for extra shade. The travelling paddocks that accompany the bus will be 165 feet square and will be made of electric portable sheep netting with a solar electric fencer. This will help keep the sheep and chickens in and the predators out.

    Our cover cropping is unique. We don't have land available to just be a cover crop for the year. So we plant clover in our sweet corn when the corn is about knee high. The clover and corn grow together. After the corn is harvested, we mow it so the clover can take over. The clover will go dormant over winter and then grow in the spring to be grazed and plowed down in June and become our later planted stages of vegetables. We do the same with peas and beans. For example, when we can still make a tractor pass through the peas with the whirly bird seed spreader, we will scatter berseem clover. While we are still harvesting peas, the clover will be growing and will become grazing ground when the pea harvest is completed.

    The rotational grazing for the year will begin with the sweet clover that was planted with last year's sweet corn. It will then progress to the clover that was planted with the first patches of peas. When the peas are harvested and the clover is tall enougb, grazing will continue to this next patch. Soil tests will be taken at the beginning and end of each season to determine the effects of various cover crops. We will also have control group samples taken where there was cover crop but no rotational grazing. We will experiment with clovers such as sweet clover and berseem clover and with cereals such as barley, oats and rye. We plan to have ten sheep and 200 broiler chickens at a time with two batches of chickens a season.

    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.