The Economic Value of Grazing and Harvesting Cover Crops for Livestock Forage in Between Grain Crops

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2014: $19,826.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:
Jennifer Lattire
Lattire Farms

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: rye, wheat, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Vegetables: turnips
  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, grazing management, winter forage
  • Crop Production: food product quality/safety
  • Education and Training: display, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures


    The Harrison County Cattle Association applied for a SARE Grant in 2014 and have completed the research trials for this two year project. Five producers worked together to evaluate triticale against their regular cover crop, winter wheat, for soil health improvements and its forage value. Three producers collected the cover crops as a dried hay product, one harvested and ensiled the cover crop and the last producer grazed triticale along with forage turnips. Through the analysis of the nutrient content of each forage product, we found triticale hay could meet the nutritional requirements for a mid-gestational cow, but falls short for late gestational and lactating cow. Winter wheat hay requires a supplement to meet the cow’s needs at all stages. When looking at silage, the winter wheat and triticale both meet the needs of the mid gestational and late gestational cow. The lactating cow only needs a bit of protein to meet her nutritional requirements. The triticale had a higher yield than the winter wheat in 2016 but comparable in 2015. We attribute that to weather conditions in the fall of 2014. When we compared root depth of the cover crops, we found triticale went several inches deeper than winter wheat, in fact, the wheat stopped at the fragipan and started growing horizontally against the barrier whereas the triticale roots penetrated the fragipan layer and continued several inches through that layer. One sample went as far as 52 inches! We presented this information to approximately 90 cattle producers in southern Indiana at two field days. To finalize and complete the report, the Cattle Association is working with the Extension Educator to complete the required report and develop an information sheet that can be used by producers to help determine the needs of their cows during the gestation cycle.


    Jennifer Lattire and her husband along with brother and father plant 2000 acres of corn, soybeans, and wheat crops every year near Elizabeth, IN. They also have approximately 100 head of cattle and produce timothy, alfalfa, and grass hays. The cattle receive supplemental forage at different times during the year depending on their needs in the pastures. We rotate our herd on a regular basis.

    They invited four other producers to be involved in this grant; Tony Day, Justin Fleace, Kevin Sieg, and Tom Ferree. 

    Larry and Tony Day, who are father and son, work together to manage 2,000 acres of corn, beans, and wheat, 70 acres of hay, 150 head of breeding cows on 200 acres of pasture, and 2 confined feeding operations for 8,000 finishing hogs near Elizabeth, IN. The concept of cover crops is not new to these producers as they have integrated wheat for grazing and hay production, and cereal rye/tillage radish for soil improvements in row crops.

    Justin Fleace recently purchased his grandfather’s farm in Laconia, IN in 2009, and has been working on the farm since he was big enough to help his grandfather. In 2014, he plans to have nearly 125 acres in row crops, with roughly 40 acres of the corn to be chopped for silage. In the spring of 2014, he will have 60 acres of wheat to chop for haylage and plans to have 100 acres to plant in wheat in the fall. As a young producer, Justin is eager to find new ways to increase the efficiency of his integrated system and understands the importance of on-farm research.

    Kevin Sieg works closely with Mike Flock to use a portion of the grain crop fields to use some of the grain crop fields as another source for hay production. He produces between 200 to 220 acres of hay per year, with 30 to 50 of those acres in a cover crop wheat hay. He uses this to feed approximately 100 head of breeding age cows with this forage production.

    Tom Ferree was invited to step in on the second year of the project to take Kevin's place. He farms around 1000 acres of grain crops and owns around 68 cows. He has been using cover crop winter wheat on some of his grain crop fields. 

    All producers have grown winter wheat in the past and then used it for hay production or grain crop harvest. No till is a practice that is also used by all producers. We were able to see soil analysis from previous years for Larry Day and Justin Fleace.

    The Natural Resources Conservation Services assisted with the soil health aspect of the grant. They provided a soil core sampler to extract cores from a field with cover crops planted.

    Miranda Ulery, Purdue Extension Educator of Harrison County, was included to help collect soil and forage samples, develop a trial plan and schedule, and help deliver results at the field day. She also helped make sure the grant requirements were met. She worked with the Grazing Extension Specialist from Purdue University to provide information about grazing cover crops and how to go about choosing the right cover crops for the trial. Ronald Lemenager, the Beef Extension Specialist from Purdue University, assisted with creating scenarios and charts to determine the nutritional needs of the gestational and lactating beef cows and if our cover crop forage products would meet the cow’s needs.

    The Jackson Jennings Co-Op (now Premier Ag) assisted by delivering seed to each of the research plots and assisting with agronomic and technical information about cover crops.


    Project objectives:

    • Find ways to become more efficient with the land available in Southern Indiana
    • Use integrated crop-livestock producers to find ways to rotate forages with grain crops
    • Determine if cover crops can effectively be used as a forage option and improve the soil health at the same time
    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.