Grass-legume mixtures for improved persistence, biomass production, and intake by dairy cattle on pasture

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2007: $140,623.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Ken Albrecht
University of Wisconsn-Madison

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: general hay and forage crops


  • Production Systems: general crop production

    Proposal abstract:

    The percentage of dairy farms in Wisconsin and Minnesota that employ managed grazing has increased dramatically over the last 13 years. The primary reasons have been relatively low startup costs and improved profitability associated with pasture-based dairying. A major biological limitation to profitability of grazing dairy operations is low forage intake by grazing cows relative to that obtained in confinement operations. This is related to pasture sward density, seasonal yield distribution and growth rate—all functions of plant species in the pasture as well as management and environmental conditions affecting plant growth. Our environment may require several types of pasture to optimize full season production—we don’t know. Genetic advances have been made in both pasture grasses and legumes that should allow development of mixtures that are capable of supporting greater levels of livestock performance than currently achieved by dairy graziers. We propose to measure pasture growth rate, sward density, feeding value (with laboratory assays) and yield and proportions of grass and legume in pastures grazed at 21 to 28 day intervals. A total of 21 different combinations of improved grass and legume species/varieties will be evaluated on two university research stations and four farms in WI and MN. Results and their significance will be made available to farmers through extension publications and local and regional conferences. Improving pasture performance, and there-by profitability of dairy farmers, will improve the quality of life of dairy farmers as well as encourage greater use of pastures in the North Central USA. Permanent groundcover will ultimately reduce erosion and chemical runoff into surface water.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Quantify growth rate, seasonal distribution of yield, species composition, and nutritive value of improved grass-legume mixtures.
    2. Quantify sward density of grasses and grass-legume mixtures over the grazing season.
    3. Educational programs on this research will extend knowledge of pasture performance differences and application of this information to decision making by dairy graziers.

    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.