Onto Greener Pastures with Rotational Grazing and Cover Crops

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2020: $249,205.00
Projected End Date: 04/30/2024
Grant Recipient: Sand County Foundation
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Heidi Peterson
Sand County Foundation

Information Products


  • Agronomic: corn, soybeans, wheat, Cover Crops (Mix)
  • Animals: bovine
  • Animal Products: meat


  • Animal Production: grazing management, grazing - rotational, winter forage
  • Crop Production: cover crops, no-till
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems

    Proposal abstract:

    Although Wisconsin cover crop acreage has been increasing, with a 10% jump in planted acres between 2012 to 2017 (USDA-NASS, 2019a), grazing cover crops is not yet common practice. Therefore, it presents an opportunity to introduce these combined management options onto livestock farms that currently use little or no rotational grazing or cover crops. Onto Greener Pastures with Rotational Grazing and Cover Crops is an education outreach project that will focus on demonstrating the value of cover crop grazing for soil health improvement, increased economic benefits, and nutrient runoff reduction.

    Over the last 50 years, nitrate and phosphorus concentrations increased in many Midwest water bodies, specifically those in agricultural watersheds (EPA, 2017; WiDNR, 2017). Though Wisconsin’s short growing season does not provide an ideal window of opportunity to incorporate cover crops, there are cropping systems where it is conducive and critical to improving soil health and water quality. This collaboration will use the voice of champions to share feedback on grazing cover crops, to build confidence among other graziers. Our goal is to expand acreage in Wisconsin planted to cover crops and rotational grazing by providing conservation guidance and motivation to graziers on the combined use of these practices, resulting in a more resilient agricultural system.

    Experienced graziers from Sauk Soil and Water Improvement Group (SSWIG) will partner with Sand County Foundation (SCF) and the University of Wisconsin (UW) to share their knowledge during field days and a webinar, document economic and environmental outcomes in two-page case-study publications, and provide a video interview. These resources will reach local (and national) graziers who have been interested in grazing cover crops but hesitant due to uncertainties about their efficacy in improving soil health, return on investment, and ability to establish cover crops. Our efforts will increase awareness, opportunity, and confidence in implementing cover crops with alternative grazing management using local demonstrations. Demonstrations will focus on documenting the benefit that livestock grazing has on the establishment and growth of cover crops, which is critical to overall system efficacy. Soil and environmental data will serve as critical calibration data for cover crops modules in agroecosystem simulation models in our USDA Sustainable Agricultural Systems Coordinated Agricultural Project (CAP) project, Grassland 2.0-An agroecological transformation plan for perennial grassland agriculture. Outcomes will include full agronomic accounting to capture improvements in farm finance stability (Compeer), soil properties (UW) and environmental (SCF) benefits generated with alternative grazing management systems. 

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Document full agronomic benefits of livestock grazing on growth and establishment of cover crops.

    • Develop four case studies, journal article, video, and webinar to articulate personal experiences and impacts of grazing cover crops.
    • Complete a field-day and collaborate in additional partner outreach events.
    • Integrate soil and environmental data from demonstration farms into agroecosystem simulation models.

    Overarching Learning Outcome: Through personal stories and modeled outputs, graziers understand benefits of rotational grazing cover crops on farm finances, agronomics, and ecosystem health.

    Overarching Action Outcome: Farmers employ more cover crops and graziers incorporate alternative grazing management systems that include rotational grazing cover crops.

    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.