- Agronomic: buckwheat, clovers, wheat
- Animals: goats, sheep, swine
- Animal Production: feed/forage, grazing management, manure management
- Crop Production: cover crops, crop rotation
- Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
- Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems, organic agriculture
- Soil Management: green manures, soil analysis, soil chemistry, soil microbiology, soil quality/health
- Sustainable Communities: partnerships
Our team of livestock and crop producers, researchers, educators, and extension specialists propose
a research and education project that documents, disseminates, and demonstrates the impacts of
incorporating livestock into grain, cover crop, and vegetable garden systems on soil health. We
will investigate the effects of integrated plant-livestock production by determining impacts on the
microbial diversity, biochemistry, and compaction of soil, and assess the resulting impacts on soil
and plant tissue nutrients, and root biomass of cover crops as well as subsequent impacts on crop
yields and livestock performance in both production farms and a field research environment. These
biological, agronomic, and livestock responses will be the basis for future enterprise-level
economic assessment of these diverse systems.
We propose to conduct a broad-based series of independent studies to compare soil health and
subsequent crop production in five diverse agricultural systems that include organic livestock,
vegetable, and cash crop farms, and a university research farm.
Finally, our project will demonstrate and disseminate not only results but we will also promote our
integrated approach and develop best management practices led by a partnership between National
Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and Montana State University (MSU) extension.
NCAT also manages the USDA ATTRA Project which has provided nationwide outreach and
education on sustainable agriculture topics for over 28 years.
Farmers should expect that the adoption of integrated crop–livestock systems will enhance both
profitability and environmental sustainability of their farms and communities. We expect that
findings of grazing-influenced relationships among soil microbial communities, soil biochemistry,
soil health, and crop production will be well received by producers via our MSU and
NCAT/ATTRA outreach programs. Our project has a high level of interest from a diverse group
of commercial agricultural producers and high potential for engagement with a variety of
producers and producer groups.
Project objectives from proposal:
Objective 1) Characterize indices of soil health including: i) soil microbial communities (i.e.,
microbial diversity and composition), N & P cycling, as well as compaction, cover crop root
dynamics, and subsequent crop yield and quality response to grazed vs ungrazed treatments by:
a) Comparing sheep- or cattle-terminated vs tillage-terminated cover crop mixes in:
i) a 5-crop rotation at MSU’s Fort Ellis Research and Education Center
ii) small-scale vegetable farm crop residues (Thirteen Mile Lamb & Wool)
iii) large-scale farm fields (Nathan Merrill and Kody Cator)
b) Comparing sheep and chicken-terminated vs tilled i) cover crop mixes and ii) small-scale
vegetable farm residues (Strike Farms, Bozeman, MT)
c) Comparing sheep, hog, and chicken/geese-terminated vs tilled i) cover crop mixes and ii)
vegetable farm residues (Black Cat Farm, Boulder, CO)
d) Comparing lamb-finishing (fed and finished with alfalfa pellets) vs tilled organic and notill
non-organic winter wheat stubble within a common 5-yr crop rotation. The common
rotation is 1) safflower under-sown to biennial sweet clover, 2) sweet clover cover
crop/green manure, 3) winter wheat, 4) lentils, and 5) winter wheat (MSU Fort Ellis
Research and Teaching Center)
Work will begin May 2017 and will be completed March 2020.
Objective 2) Write peer reviewed publications and deliver professional presentations to local, state,
and national scientific audiences regarding grazing-affected soil properties. We will use this
information in part as the foundation for objective 3.
Work will begin May 2018 and will be completed March 2020.
Objective 3) Demonstrate technologies and conduct educational programs by developing and
delivering extension, on-farm, and web-based outreach programs incorporating the resources of
NCAT and MSU extension service to illustrate our approach of crop-livestock integration and
deliver preliminary and final results to producers and consumers. An example of our current multimedia
outreach can be seen at: http://www.montana.edu/news/15433/msu-organic-farming-studyfinds-diverse-benefits-using-sheep
along with the video link at the end of this article.
Work will begin March 2018 and will be completed March 2020.
Objective 4) Collect production and operation data for future economic and energy balance
evaluation. Collect needed data for economic and energy assessment. We will then seek a
continuation of this project that focuses on the economic evaluation of three years of biological
data along with expanded outreach with a solid base of both biological, energy, and economic
Work will begin March 2019 and will be completed March 2020.