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

2009 Annual Report for LNC07-279

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

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


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 graziers. We propose to measure growth rate, sward density, feeding value (with laboratory assays) and yield and proportions of grass and legume in swards defoliated at 28 to 35 day intervals. A total of 21 different combinations of new and traditional grass and legume species/varieties will be evaluated on two university research stations in WI and MN. Improving pasture performance, and thereby profitability of dairy farmers, will improve the quality of life of dairy farmers as well as encourage greater use of pastures in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Objectives/Performance Targets

  • Quantify growth rate, seasonal distribution of yield, species composition, and nutritive value of improved grass-legume mixtures.
    Quantify sward density of grasses and grass-legume mixtures over the grazing season.
    Extend information about grass-legume mixtures to farmers.


  • Sampling of grass-legume mixtures at 28 day (tall fescue, meadow fescue, orchardgrass, Kentucky bluegrass) or 35 day (smooth bromegrass, reed canarygrass, quackgrass) was conducted in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
    Data collected include total season yield, seasonal distribution of yield, and sward density.
    Samples for forage quality analysis (CP, NDF, IVTD) and species composition (via NIRS) were collected for later processing.
    Laboratory analysis for forage quality and species composition were initiated. Data organization and analysis were initiated.
    Grass-legume mixtures were discussed at a pasture walk on a farm in central Wisconsin.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

None yet.


Ken Albrecht

[email protected]
University of Wisconsin-Madison
1575 Linden Drive
Madison, WI 53706
Office Phone: 6082622314
Dave Combs

[email protected]
University of Wisconsin-Madison
1675 Observatory Drive
Madison, WI 53706
Office Phone: 6082634844
Craig Sheaffer

[email protected]
University of Minnesota
1991 Upper Buford Circle
St. Paul, MN 55108
Office Phone: 6126257224