Integrating Cropping and Nutrient Management Systems on Grass-Based Dairies with Manure Slurry Enriched Micro-Site Seeding

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2004: $137,849.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Timothy Harrigan
Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: manure management, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, grazing - rotational, stockpiled forages, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: continuous cropping, no-till, nutrient cycling
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, focus group, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Pest Management: cultural control
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: nutrient mineralization, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    On most grass-based dairies in the Great Lakes Region, cattle are on pasture during the growing season and housed over winter. Soil tests often show that hay and pasture ground is nutrient deficient, but little of the stored manure is applied to hay and pasture land because of concerns that it may inhibit the dry matter intake of animals or in some way damage the existing stand. Preliminary work has shown that excellent stands of Oil Seed Radish, Festulolium, and White Clover can be achieved using a low-cost, low-disturbance soil aeration tool to create seeding micro-sites, and then using a nutrient rich manure slurry as a carrier to deliver the forage grass and legume seed to the seeding sites without destroying the existing forage. This concept is innovative and original and has not been done before. It combines seeding, manure use and aeration tillage in one sustainable and efficient operation. The process will enrich nutrient deficient grassland, protect the environment by maintaining a dense vegetative cover to reduce sediment and nutrient runoff, increase the species richness, yield and quality of hay and grassland, and provide livestock a more complete, balanced feed. Replicated large plots and on-farm demonstration sites will be established. Plant species composition in improved and untreated check plots will be evaluated. Subplots will be mechanically harvested for yield and quality analysis. The grazing preference and dry matter intake of cattle on seeded and untreated pasture ground will be evaluated to determine a reasonable delay between the seeding process and introduction of grazing cattle. Desired outcomes are to: 1) evaluate grassland response to slurry enriched micro-site seeding, 2) determine an appropriate delay between seeding and grazing based on cattle grazing preference, and 3) increase the profitability and environmental sustainability of dairy and livestock farms. Project evaluation will include conventional statistical analysis, farmer interest and involvement in field days, and farmer adoption of results.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Grass-based dairy and livestock producers in the Great Lakes region are the intended audience, but the process will benefit producers throughout the North Central states. The impact will be measured based on farmer interest and involvement in the project, and by their willingness to adopt new pasture and nutrient management practices.

    Specific short-term outcomes will be to:
    1) evaluate changes in the species richness and yield of grassland due to low-disturbance, slurry-enriched micro-site seeding,
    2) determine a suitable period of time between seeding and the introduction of animals based on the grazing preference of cattle,
    3) develop guidelines for on-farm pasture and grassland enrichment with micro-site slurry seeding, and
    4) evaluate the economic and environmental impact of micro-site seeding on grass-based dairies in the Great Lakes region.

    The proposed project offers clear labor efficiencies in combining pasture seeding with the application of manure nutrients. Adding value to manure by using it as a carrier for desirable forage species will encourage farm-to-farm sharing of equipment and services related to the slurry seeding process, and in some cases, the start-up of rural enterprises dedicated to environmentally responsible land application of manure nutrients.

    Intermediate outcomes will be to:
    1) increase the profitability of grazing dairy and livestock farms in the Great Lakes region by providing for a more dependable supply of high quality feed,
    2) increase the environmental sustainability of grazing dairy and livestock farms through more effective recycling of manure nutrients and providing a continuous dense, vegetative ground cover to prevent nutrient and sediment runoff, and
    3) strengthen working relationships among farmers, university and government agencies through cooperation in on-farm and experiment station-based research.

    The potential benefits of slurry-enriched, micro-site seeding is not limited to dairies, nor to producers who store liquid manure on their farms. At least one member of our farmer advisory group who grazes cattle but does not store manure is planning to import swine manure from a neighboring farm for use in the micro-site seeding process. Such cross-species manure use for pasture improvement could also be used to benefit beef, horse, sheep and other graziers.

    In the long-term, increasing the diversity of forages in the crop mix will improve the efficiency of on-farm nutrient cycling, improve soil quality, provide a more effective vegetative cover to reduce nutrient and sediment runoff, and provide grazing animals a more complete feed. Such an improved pasture will allow for more efficient use of the existing forage and decrease the need for imported, supplemental feeds and fertilizers. Society will benefit by reduced manure nutrient loss to the environment.

    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.