A Comparison of Forage Production, Livestock Performance, Soil Health, and Economics Between Perennial and Perennial/Annual Combination Forage Systems

Project Overview

Project Type: Research Only
Funds awarded in 2023: $99,899.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2026
Grant Recipient: University of Maryland
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Project Leader:
Dr. Amanda Grev
University of Maryland


  • Agronomic: annual ryegrass, clovers, grass (misc. annual), grass (misc. perennial), medics/alfalfa, millet, oats, peas (field, cowpeas), sorghum sudangrass, triticale
  • Animals: bovine, sheep
  • Animal Products: dairy, meat


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, grazing - multispecies, grazing - rotational, grazing management, rangeland/pasture management, stocking rate, stockpiled forages, winter forage
  • Crop Production: cover crops, crop rotation, no-till, nutrient cycling, nutrient management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, networking, participatory research, technical assistance, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, budgets/cost and returns
  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    As grass-fed products continue to grow in popularity due to increased consumer demand, livestock producers throughout the Northeast region are becoming increasingly interested in grass-fed production systems. However, relative to conventional management systems, it is challenging for producers to achieve sufficient livestock performance on forage alone. Fluctuations in forage quality and quantity throughout the growing season can make this particularly difficult. In the cool-season pastures that predominate the Northeast region, there is often an abundance of forage during the spring and fall but limited growth during the summer. Incorporation of annual forages into perennial-based grazing systems presents an opportunity for producers to provide higher quality forages over a greater portion of the growing season, increasing animal performance. However, utilizing annual forages requires additional financial inputs related to forage establishment (e.g., seed, time, labor, and seeding equipment). In the 2020 Maryland Forage Needs Assessment, cost of establishment was listed by producers as their primary limitation for using annual forages. It is largely unknown if these additional costs outweigh the benefits that annual forages can provide. This information would be valuable to producers in making decisions on the use of annual forages for their operation.

    The objective of this project is to compare forage yield and quality, livestock performance, soil health, and economic impact between a traditional cool-season perennial-based pasture system and a perennial/annual combination pasture system. Pasture systems will be located at the University Research Center and the study will be conducted over multiple growing seasons to account for annual weather variability. Both systems will utilize an established, high-quality, mixed grass-legume perennial pasture. For the perennial/annual combination system, a portion of the acreage will be set aside and planted in annual forages, which will be established seasonally with summer annuals followed by winter annuals. During the grazing season, a similar livestock herd with equal stocking density will be rotationally grazed within each pasture system. Forage yield, forage quality, animal performance (weight gain, growth), soil health, and economic data (costs: seed, time, labor; income: animal weight gain value) will be measured under each system. An economic analysis will be completed to compare the inputs, outputs, and relative success of each system.

    As the study progresses, producers will be invited to an annual field day at the research site. Preliminary results will be shared and producers will be invited to provide feedback and discuss research findings. Two producers interested in trying annual forages on their own farms will be recruited to serve as on-farm demonstration sites and will each host an on-farm field day. At the conclusion of the study, results will be disseminated to producers through a combination of direct (farm visits, field days, meetings, demonstrations) and indirect (articles, webinars, videos) methods.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The objective of this research project is to compare forage production and quality, livestock performance, soil health, and economics under a perennial versus perennial/annual combination forage system. The use of annual forages for livestock production is becoming increasingly popular and is often perceived as a high-quality, high-yielding forage option compared to traditional perennial pasture. However, annual forages require increased establishment costs, and it is unknown if these additional costs outweigh the benefits annual forages can provide. This study will compare these two production systems to allow Northeast livestock producers to make more educated decisions regarding forage options for their farm.

    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.