Effect of Cover Crops on Beef Animal Performance and Soil Health

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2015: $9,999.00
Projected End Date: 08/30/2017
Grant Recipient: South Dakota State University
Region: North Central
State: South Dakota
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Derek Brake
South Dakota State University

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: annual ryegrass, radish (oilseed, daikon, forage)
  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, grazing management
  • Crop Production: cover crops

    Proposal abstract:

    In this region, pasture acres are rapidly becoming farm acres, therefore, in some areas of the North Central region pastures and ground to produce hay for animal feed are limited resources. Also, it is costly to bring harvested feed to animals in the late fall and winter. Grazing cover crops at the best stocking rate could be an economical solution that has benefits pertaining to operation profitability, grazing livestock, and soil health. This study will identify, in conjunction with other work, the best stocking rate for optimal animal and soil performance. Along with the grazing study, a producer component will identify feelings toward cover crop implementation, roadblocks and ways to educate about and help with implementation of the technology through surveys and interviews. Forage, diet, animal performance and soil samples will be taken and analyzed. The producer will operate as usual except for the inclusion of planting and grazing cover crops in 2016. Body condition scores and soil samples will be collected from 3 participating operations near the Watertown Regional Extension Center and the Mitchel Regional Extension Center in South Dakota. On site at South Dakota State University, grazing will take place in 6 paddocks in what was an oat field prior to planting the cover crop mixture. Forage biomass will be calculated before and after grazing. Stocking densities will be set to leave approximately 55, 45 or 35% of the biomass as residue. Heifers will be weighed at the beginning, mid-way, and end of grazing to monitor weight changes. Approximately half-way through the experiment, fecal and urine samples will be collected to determine nitrogen excretion. Diet selection and quality will be identified from diet samples from the rumen of the cannulated heifer in each paddock. Lastly, manure distribution will be determined. Diet quality, intake and cover remaining are critical components in nitrogen excretion and soil organic matter. Diet quality and intake are also very important factors for animal performance. Utilizing cover crops will optimize productivity and improve/maintain healthy soils. Once producers are implementing the grazing of cover crops at optimal stocking rates, improved productivity as well as economic, and environmental sustainability will be realized.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    By obtaining animal and soil measurements pre- and post- planting and grazing of cover crop in the fall of 2015 as well as the fall of 2016, many benefits will be quantifiably demonstrated. Surveys and interviews will also be used to obtain the perspective of a broad base of producers. This data will increase producer knowledge about cover crops and the best stocking rate by which to graze them. It will demonstrate the many soil health, animal performance and economic benefits that go along with utilizing this technology. Once an understanding of the technology is advanced, producers will be able to analyze whether or not it could be implemented in their operations. Collaborating with extension specialists, we will use the information from data collected to develop programs aiding in the adoption of this technology. Once producers are implementing the grazing of cover crops at optimal stocking rates, improved productivity as well as economic, and environmental sustainability will be realized.

    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.