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


    Cover crops (e.g., annual cool season forages) often provide opportunity to enhance nutrient cycling and mitigate soil erosion, and loss of nitrogen on tillable lands subsequent to grain harvest. Thus, it is not surprising that amounts of tillable land planted to annual cool season forages subsequent to harvest has linearly increased over the past 10 years. Grazing annual cool season forages (e.g., brassicas, grass, legume, forbs) can allow for greater efficiency of land use by production of plant and animal products on the same land resources. Indeed, grazing annual cool season forages can also allow for increased availability of forage resources to ruminants and reduce needs for stored forages, which could allow for expansion of the United States cow herd.

    Many brassicas planted to tillable land allow for appreciable amounts of forage organic matter that contain greater concentrations of metabolizable energy and non-structural carbohydrates in comparison to other forages. However, brassicas often accumulate secondary plant defensive compounds (e.g., nitrates, sulphates, glucosinolates, and S-methyl cysteine sulphoxides) that can have deleterious effects among grazing cattle. A paucity exists among the available data related to optimal management practices for cattle grazing annual cool season forages, and this lack of information prevents optimal use of these forages by cattle. Stocking rate often has large effects on diet digestibility, forage selection, and animal performance. Yet, few data are available on effects of stocking rates among cattle grazing annual cool season forages.

    Our goal in this study is to provide information that allows for improved management of cattle grazing annual cool season forages. Improved management strategies among cattle grazing annual cool season forages can allow for greater integration of livestock and crop production systems that can allow for improved use of land resources.

    Project objectives:

    The objective of this research was to determine the effect of stocking rate among cattle grazing brassica (purple top turnip and forage radish) and annual ryegrass planted subsequent oat harvest. We also wanted to identify producer viewpoints and setbacks to the technology.

    Specifically, our objectives were to measure: 1) diet selection, 2) diet digestibility, 3) quantify nitrogen balance, and 4) determine animal performance 5) survey 6) interview products.

    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.