Annual Forages to Extend the Grazing Season

Name and Position/Title:
Denise Schwab, Beef  Field Specialist

Fiscal Year Submitted:

POW Title and Number:
141 Reduced feed cost for Iowa beef producers

Annual Forages to Extend the Grazing Season

Issue (Who cares and Why):
photoWith the recent increase in corn prices, eastern  Iowa’s cattlemen are concerned about how to combine cash grain crops, forage production for cattle, and overall farm profitability.  One potential option is to utilize annual forages in rotation with grain.  Traditionally, annual forage production in Iowa has been viewed as being too expensive.  But can annual forages fit into a row-crop program allowing producers to raise both a cash grain crop and forage for the cow herd on the same acres?  This is an extension of a 2009 demonstration using triticale, peas, and millet in a rotation with corn and soybeans.

What Did You Do? (Outputs – these may include educational meetings, demonstrations or research, media, facilitating, partnering)

Two demonstrations and three field days were the feature of this project that will continue with additional field days in 2011. 

One demonstration featured utilizing forage sorghum/sudangrass as a tool to increase grazing days while renovating existing pasture.  Steve Murty seeded 12.5 acres into a permanent pasture on June 11, 2010, using a burndown and no-till drill.  This was divided into two paddocks, and the remaining pasture was divided into another 2 or 3 paddocks.  This also allowed Murty to interseed another part of the permanent pasture with legumes to improve the stand.  At the time of the field day (July 28, 2010) he had already rotated 30 cow/calf pairs through half of the seeding.  Sixteen producers attended the field day and saw the regrowth on the sorghum/sudangrass, the improved volunteer stand of orchardgrass which was an unexpected benefit, and a variety of other annual grass samples provided by LandOLakes Forage First.  In addition to marketing media, the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman included a photo/story followup explaining the demonstration site.
The second demonstration site featured planting cereal crops in the fall for winter and spring grazing.  Both a spring and fall field day were held at the Alan Welter farm north of Onslow.  Welter has traditionally seeded cereal rye with or without oats into chopped corn fields for late fall and early spring grazing.  For the 2009-10 winter feeding season, he grazed 90 cows for 37 additional days on fall seeded cereal rye, saving on stored feed costs.  Typical winter feed costs are about $1.32 per cow per day, where his costs to graze the cereal rye was only $0.62 per cow per day if land costs are charged to the corn crop.  The April 21 field day demonstrated the extent of spring grazing left when most producers were starting to plant corn or turning cows out to pastures that were not yet ready to be grazed.

In the fall of 2010, Welter seeded cereal rye with oats anticipating more fall grazing that the year prior.  In addition to the grazing of rye, Welter also planted several demonstration plots with various fall annual crops, and brought samples for the participants to compare forage growth.  He included oats, triticale, cereal rye, ryegrass, several varieties of turnips and radish.  There was roughly 8-10 inches of forage growth on the November 12 field day, and cows had not yet been turned onto the field.  They would continue to graze an adjacent alfalfa field before moving to the rye/oats field.  Total grazing days have not been calculated yet.

photoThere are advantages to a winter grazing system beyond feed cost, although some may be difficult to put a price on.  Labor and fuel use are one advantage.  In this situation there were 37 days that did not require labor or a tractor to deliver stored feed to the cow herd.  A second advantage is manure management.  Rather than having all the winter manure from 90 cows concentrated in a dry lot, it is spread over the 35 acres where the cows were wintered.  The cows calved on the seeded rye rather than in a muddy lot, likely decreasing the incidence of calf scours and other health issues.  This system allows the permanent pasture a chance to get started in the spring before being grazed, resulting in more season-long forage production and less stress on the plant.   Finally, the soil was covered by a forage crop throughout the winter reducing the potential for soil erosion.

Results (Outcomes – was there a increase in knowledge, new skills learned, new decisions made, new practices implemented, increased profitability, new standards, enhanced quality of life)

Thirty seven producers attended the three field days, many commenting on what they learned from the fphotoield days.  At least seven indicated they have used some annual forages, or would like to do some in the future.  A small group of five producers have since met to write a proposal for a SARE farmer grant to continue efforts using annual forages for grazing following a grain crop.  Two of these have grown annuals as a cover crop to hold soil or capture excess nutrients, but have not grazed them as a part of their cattle operation.  A formal evaluation will be conducted this summer to measure changes in their practices.  Although the grant funds supporting thisproject have ended, additional demonstrations are being planned for 2011.

Thanks to the Leopold Center and the Grass Based Livestock Working Group for funding this project on annuals in Northeast Iowa, and to Al and Jim Welter and Steve Murty for hosting these field days and sharing their experiences


Page last updated: July 19, 2011
Page maintained by Julie Honeick,