Unraveling the milk production potential of winter cereals grown as forage double crops in corn or sorghum rotations

2016 Annual Report for GNE15-108

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2015: $14,999.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Grant Recipient: Cornell University
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Quirine Ketterings
Cornell University
Faculty Advisor:
Debbie Cherney
Cornell University

Unraveling the milk production potential of winter cereals grown as forage double crops in corn or sorghum rotations


Double cropping has the potential to increase on-farm forage production as well as provide environmental benefits such as rotation diversity, erosion control, end-of-season nutrient uptake, and increased soil organic matter. With NESARE funding, the ideal N application rates and stage of harvest are being evaluated for triticale and cereal rye, two winter cereals well suited to the northeastern United States. Farmers have stated that these winter cereals grown as double crops harvested at the boot stage have resulted in increased milk yield in dairy cattle. Basic quality assessments conducted to date show an increase in crude protein with addition of N and decline in overall quality with delay in harvest but these findings do not explain an increase in milk production when the forage is harvested at the optimal timing. We hypothesize that an increase in digestibility is partly responsible for the increased milk potential of winter cereals. Through in vitro analyses of triticale and cereal rye, this study will determine in more detail the sugar content and digestibility (and milk production potential) of the winter cereals grown at various N rates (0 to 120 lbs N/acre) and harvested at different stages of growth (from 2-nodes through early heading). Additionally, for a subset of samples quality parameters of dry forages will be compared to that of ensiled forages. The Cornell Net Carbohydrate and Protein System (CNCPS) will also be used to evaluate the ensiled samples and their performance in a typical NY dairy total mixed ration (TMR). Further, a survey will be developed and distributed to farmers, farm advisors, and nutritionists who have experience with double cropping to get a better idea of how farmers are currently growing, processing, and/or feeding double crops in the Northeast. A better understanding of the milk producing potential of winter forages will help farmers make more informed decisions about implementing double crop rotations.

Objectives/Performance Targets

The objectives of this study are to 1. Compare the nutritive quality via digestibility analysis of two species of winter cereals (triticale and cereal rye) grown at differing N rates and harvested at different growth stages; 2. Determine the quality effects of ensiling the two species of winter cereals; and 3. Evaluate the economic advantages of double cropping from a farm feed nutrient requirement and milk production perspective. This research will contribute to and build on previous projects looking at the benefits of various soil and forage management strategies on yield and environmental stability. These results will answer farmer-generated questions regarding the quality of the forages produced in double cropping systems. If farmers are aware of the nutritional benefits resulting from various crop (harvest, fertilization, ensiling versus dry hay, species selection) management decisions, it is more likely that they will adopt the best management strategies in order to improve their farm’s sustainability while increasing production and profitability.


The forage samples for two cereal rye fields in eastern NY and four triticale fields in central NY with multiple N rates were harvested (20 samples per field) and subsamples were dried and ground or ensiled. The dried samples were analyzed for crude protein, neutral detergent fiber, acid detergent fiber, and ash content. Quality analysis for the ensiled samples has been completed and entered into CNCPS at different percentages in order to observe their theoretical performance in a dairy TMR. The preliminary phases of a survey investigating double cropping experience are underway, with a plan of distributing the survey in early 2017. Preliminary results of the CNCPS results as well as quality data of both the dried and ensiled samples were presented at conferences and trainings including the Northeast Region Certified Crop Advisor training with very positive feedback.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Nutritive quality and digestibility results are being analyzed further to determine the milk production potential and nutritional economic gain of these winter cereals as compared to dairy forage rotations that do not include winter cereals. The farmer/nutritionist survey in progress now will give us a better idea about what practices are currently being used on farms and how our research can more appropriately contribute to NY dairy farms and their adoption of double cropping. Numerous presentations have been given about the ongoing work with yield and quality management of winter cereals, including a presentation at the international ASA/CSSA/SSSA meeting in November 2015, the 2015 and 2016 Agriculture and Food Systems In-Service in November, the Northeast Regional Certified Crop Advisor training in December 2015 and 2016, the Big Flats cover crop workshop in November 2016, and the Cornell Nutrition conference in October 2016. Extension educators, members of the academic community, and farmers alike are all very interested in the potential of double crops to be a valuable and cost-effective addition to dairy production systems in the Northeast United States.


Quirine Ketterings

Cornell University
323 Morrison Hall, Department of Animal Science
Ithaca, NY 14853
Office Phone: 6072553061
Website: http://nmsp.cals.cornell.edu
Debbie Cherney

Associate Professor
Cornell University
329 Morrison Hall, Department of Animal Science
Ithaca, NY 14853
Office Phone: 6072552882