Improving Soil Health by Rotationally Grazing Cattle on Full Season Cover Crop Cocktails on a No-till Farm in the Red River Valley of North Dakota

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2017: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2019
Grant Recipient: From the Ground Up farm
Region: North Central
State: North Dakota
Project Coordinator:
Clint Severance
From The Ground Up Farm

Information Products


  • Agronomic: buckwheat, oats, peas (field, cowpeas), radish (oilseed, daikon, forage), rapeseed, rye, sorghum sudangrass, sunflower, vetches, wheat
  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: grazing management, grazing - rotational, stocking rate
  • Crop Production: cover crops, crop rotation
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Production Systems: dryland farming, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: soil analysis
  • Sustainable Communities: quality of life

    Proposal summary:


    The problem we are trying to solve is to prove that grazing cattle on productive Red River Valley farmland can be an economically viable piece of the crop system.

    Since starting the conversion to no-till farming practices in 2012 the Vinje Farms has wanted to take the step of adding livestock to the system to help increase soil health. Cattle come with a large upfront cost for the animals and the infrastructure, so we would like to prove that the benefits to soil health and the value pounds beef produced outweigh these startup costs.

    From the Ground Up farm would like to add grass fed beef to its pastured pork and pastured poultry offerings, but does not have the land base to add this enterprise. We would like to prove to area land owners that it would be beneficial to partner with us to grass finish cattle.

    The overall benefit to the region (where use of cover crops is just starting to take off and integration of livestock is a possibility if farmers can partner with livestock operations) is to show how these approaches can be used together with the goal of improving soil health, especially on recently converted no-till soils. Soils in the Red River Valley of North Dakota are challenging – often staying wet and cold in the spring as a result of our climate and high clay content. In addition, fertility is declining as conventional tillage practices and corn-soybean rotations are used. Having full season cover crops along with livestock to improve challenging soil conditions, while staying economically sound, is an important approach to test in this region.


    We will use two 7 acre fields at the Vinje farm each year of this project. We will buy 15 cows each year for this project, we plan to acquire these cows from 3 or 4 different ranches to get a mix of ages and genetic diversity. The cattle will start the first year on field A that has been seeded to winter rye. Field B will be seeded to a cool season cover crop cocktail. The cattle will be moved to field B when the field is ready to be grazed. Field A will then be seeded to a warm season cover crop cocktail. The cattle will be moved back to field A when it is ready to be grazed. Field B will then be seeded to winter rye for grazing in year 2. When the growing season is done the cattle will be sold, hopefully some as grass-fed beef. In year 2 we will repeat the study, but use fields B and C. Field A will grow a corn crop to see if there is a yield boost after 1 year of grazing cover crops beyond what we can see in soil samples. Each year we will do soil and forage tests on each field, both grazed and ungrazed portions to determine how many nutrients are being added from full season cover crops, and grazing full season cover crops. We will also weigh each cow between moves from one field to the other to find out how much beef each cover crop produced. We think there will be a yield boost and input cost reduction in the cash crops grown after grazing the cover crops, this is something we would like to look into in the future.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Analyze the benefits to soil health of rotationally grazing cattle on season-long cover crops for both one year and two consecutive years and simultaneously measuring the weight gain of cattle per acre grazed.
    2. Benefit the environment by growing cover crops to increase the nutrients and organic matter of the soil and increase the water infiltration rate, and by grass feeding to reduce the amount of crop inputs and fuel used in the production of beef.
    3. Help farmers maximize profitability by testing which cover crops produce the most beef per acre.
    4. Produce healthy, locally grown grass fed beef for the community to consume.
    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.