Improving Forage Production and Quality with Native Legumes in Grazed Warm-Season Grass Stands

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2008: $149,456.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Randall Jackson
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Craig Maier
Dan Undersander
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Agronomic: general hay and forage crops
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: grazing management, grazing - rotational
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems

    Proposal abstract:

    In the North Central region of the US, pastures planted with a significant warm-season grass component may provide livestock producers with greater amounts of summer forage than pastures sown to introduced cool-season grasses only. However, lower forage quality of warm-season grasses makes them less desirable to grass farmers.

    Native legume species of the tallgrass prairie have the potential to increase forage quantity and quality in these warm-season grass pastures, creating higher profitability and greater incentive to incorporate diverse native plantings into grazing operations. Research has shown that more diverse plantings of native tallgrass prairie species can increase biomass production of native warm-season grasses compared to these grasses grown alone; separate lines of research have identified native legumes with the highest protein content and greatest digestibility; and rotational grazing has been shown to increase native plant biodiversity in existing western tallgrass prairie. These separate research tracks will be integrated in this project, using existing warm-season grass plots located at an agricultural research station in southern Wisconsin.

    These plots include plantings of high diversity, low diversity, and one species of warm-season grass. Our objectives are to demonstrate improved forage yield and quality when native legumes are added to tallgrass prairie plantings, and to evaluate the persistence of native legumes and other native forbs in warm-season grass plantings when incorporated into a rotational grazing system.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    We will evaluate how plant species of the eastern tallgrass prairie, specifically native perennial legumes, can be established as part of a management-intensive rotational grazing (MIRG) system.

    Our short-term outcomes will address three questions:
    1. How do grazing and mowing compare as management tools for establishing native legumes in warm-season grassland?
    2. How is forage quantity and quality influenced by native legumes?
    3. How do results from Questions 1 and 2 differ in high-diversity, low-diversity, and single species grassland communities?

    In the intermediate term, we expect our results will provide a scientific understanding about the utility of grazing as a prairie restoration tool in the upper Midwest and how native prairie plants affect livestock production in warm-season grasslands. Hence, the audience for our work include farmers, who are seeking ways to improve productivity in sustainable ways, and land managers, who need tools for managing species composition and diversity in restored and remnant tallgrass prairie.

    Anticipated long-term outcomes of incorporating diverse native species into grazing lands include improving soil stability and fertility, increasing carbon sequestration, improving drought tolerance, and providing balanced forage levels throughout the grazing season. The ability to optimize these ecosystem services, while maintaining a vibrant, profitable livestock production enterprise should lead to widespread adoption of more sustainable grass farming practices.

    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.