More Forage From The Land,
Rather Than More Land!
With the renewed optimism in corn and other cash crops there is more
pressure on each acre of land to produce. More corn acres are being grown,
with little of this increase coming at the expense of soybean and wheat
acreage. The additional cash crop acres are coming from ground formerly
used for hay and pasture production, which is putting pressure on livestock
farmers to improve forage productivity on a diminishing land resource.
An opportunity to grow more forage for your livestock is to double crop
after a cereal, using a cover crop such as oats. Research has shown that
oats seeded after winter wheat harvest can yield 1 to 3.5 tonnes per acre
where manure is applied. Even in fields without manure, oats can yield
½ to 1 ½ tonnes per acre for forage. At hay prices of $85.00
per tonne, cover crops give a good return in addition to the cereal crop
Figure 1: Strip Grazing for Efficient Utilization
Farmers have used a variety of species for cover crops, such as barley
or mixed grain, oats, rye, turnip-cereal mix, peas, or triticale. Figure
2 shows the results of a 2005 Cover Crop Study comparing oats, oilseed
radish, peas, red clover, annual ryegrass and sudan grass. In this study,
oats produced the most forage yield, with the exception of red clover
with no manure or annual ryegrass with manure applied. This study and
others have shown that volunteer cereals yield only 50 to 75% of the oat
Figure 2: 2005 Cover Crop Study comparing Oats, Oilseed Radish,
Peas, Red Clover, Annual Ryegrass and Sudan Grass
It may seem early to be thinking about August seeding, but now is the
time to start planning. Establishing a cover crop can be done using a
no-till drill or by broadcasting the seed on the field followed by a light
tillage pass such as a cultivator or rotary harrow to incorporate the
seed. Ideally the seed should be planted at 1 ½ inch depth. Some
tillage can reduce disease pressure from the preceding cereal crop. Under
dry conditions, following with a packer will firm up the seed to soil
contact and help retain mois-ture for better emergence. Manure can be
ap-plied immediately at planting and incorporation will capture more of
the readily available nitro-gen in the manure.
Strip grazing by cattle or sheep can be as effi-cient or even better
than cutting and baling the cover crop. Cereal crops seeded as a cover
or second crop are usually ready to begin grazing about 45 to 60 days
after planting. They should be grazed before the cereals reach the head
stage as forage quality will then begin to de-cline.
Does late fall/winter grazing compact the soil?
Research from Nebraska with beef cattle showed winter grazing crop residues
had no significant effect the following year on grain crop yields, and additional
tillage was not required. However, spring grazing increased the soil's bulk
density and decreased water infiltration rate, therefore cattle should not
graze crop residues in March.
Figure 3: A Cover Crop Can Yield a Significant Amount of Forage
There are several benefits to using cover crops following a cereal crop.
They protect the soil from wind and heavy rains in the fall months before
freeze up, build soil organic matter, and the livestock component improves
nutrient cycling. With crops like red clover, nitrogen can be fixed for
the following crop. It also gives the livestock farmer a place to spread
manure in the late summer and reduces the nitrogen that could be lost
to the environment. The direct economic benefit to the livestock farmer
is the extra feed produced from the same land base. This allows the producer
to get more forage from the land, rather than using more land!
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