Pasture forage quality and yield response to irrigation, N fertilizer, and organic amendments

2004 Annual Report for LNE03-185

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2003: $69,852.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Matching Federal Funds: $157,329.00
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $13,871.00
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
William Murphy
University of Vermont

Pasture forage quality and yield response to irrigation, N fertilizer, and organic amendments


On the Forgues Family Organic Dairy Farm, near Alburg Springs, Vermont we are studying pasture forage yield and quality under management-intensive grazing with treatments of: irrigation or nonirrigation, and eight levels of soil fertility treatments (0, PKlime, NPKlime, fish, fish/seaweed, crab shell, and two levels of dairy manure compost).

This research is being used as a focal point to attract graziers to two pasture walks per season, to learn about the research and basic and advanced aspects of management-intensive grazing. Regardless of research results, graziers will learn techniques that will help them either to begin using or improve their use and profitability of management-intensive grazing.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Of the 60 experienced graziers and 30 inexperienced graziers invited to pasture walks during the 3 years of this project, 30 experienced graziers will adopt at least two of these new practices: a) pre- and post-grazing pasture dry matter estimating, b) feed planning, or c) phenological timing of N fertilization; 10 inexperienced graziers will begin using management-intensive grazing.


This year was disappointing in both research and achieving projected milestone levels. Last winter brought severe cold weather, with many nights of -30 F, little or no snow cover, and ice sheeting. Pasture and hay swards throughout the region were severly damaged, and many farmers reseeded in spring. The pasture sward at the experimental site was severly damaged, with consequent depression of legume content and forage yield during the growing season. I decided to continue with the existing sward, rather than reseed, to determine if the plants can recover during the last 2 years of the project. During the growing season rainfall was higher than normal, making 2004 the second or third wettest year on record in Vermont. Only one irrigation was needed.

Although about 30 farmers were invited to each of the two pasture walks again this year, only seven attended the first meeting, and no one attended the second meeting. Lack of attendance may have been due to the difficulty farmers had all season to harvest crops because of wet conditions.

Research is simple and straightforward; getting people to apply what we already know about good grazing management to help their farms become sustainable is much more difficult than conducting research.

One unforeseen problem has developed related to my offer of free grazing management assistance as part of this project. People who are trying to make a living as grazing management consultants have objected to me offering to do it for free. This is a conflict that I don’t want, and I don’t think it’s appropriate that university programs compete with private enterprise, so I’ll refer farmers who request assistance to consultants. In the end this is the best approach, because something “free” is perceived as having no value and is not given adequate attention.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

During the first 2 years, only two people requested help with grazing management, and these were people who weren’t presently farming, but wanted help in planning.
Research results so far show that the two compost treatments yielded the most forage. Irrigation increased total digestible nutrients and forage yield.


Juan Alvez
Graduate Student
University of Vermont
Burlington, VT 05405
Henry Forgues

Organic dairy farmer
Forgues Family Farm
Route 2 Box 115
Alburg Springs, VT 05440
Office Phone: 8027963279
Travis Forgues
Organic dairy farmer
Forgues Family Farm
Route 2 Box 114
Alburg Springs, VT 05440
Office Phone: 8027964492