Legume-grass mixture for dairy and beef in the central Upper Peninsula region

A recent study worked to determine a better performing legume-grass mixture for dairy and beef in the central U.P.

Forage plays a pivotal role for supporting the dairy and beef industies as one of the most important animal feeds in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. A legume–grass mixture would be more advantageous over pure grasses in terms of nitrogen utilization and pest control. The objective of this study was to determine a better performing legume-grass mixture for dairy and beef in the central U.P. This study was funded by the regional Project GREEEN.

Six different legume-grass binary mixture treatments (i.e., alfalfa-orchardgrass, alfalfa-tall fescue, alfalfa- festulolium, birdsfoot trefoil-orchardgrass, birdsfoot trefoil-tall fescue, birdsfoot trefoil-festulolium) were seeded at the AgBioResearch Upper Peninsula Research Center in Chatham on August 1, 2011. The maturity between legume and grass was matched as close as possible not only to maximize forage yield and nutritive value but also to minimize inter-species competition. Plots were 3 x 20 feet long using a randomized complete block design with four replications. Each plot had the recommended amount of fertilizer applied to it, and the appropriate herbicides/pesticides were applied for weeds and insects. Harvesting occurred three times in 2012 (June 4, July 6, and Sept. 5) and dry matter yield and moisture were taken. During harvesting, sub-samples were collected to analyze forage quality such as crude protein, acid detergent fiber, and neutral detergent fiber.

Table 1. Forage Yields of Alfalfa and Birdsfoot trefoil with Cool-Season Grasses

Species

Total Dry   Matter Yield (Ton/A)

Alfalfa/Orchardgrass

3.05

Alfalfa/Festulolium

3.60

Alfalfa/Tall Fescue

2.52

BFT*/Festulolium

3.31

BFT/Orchardgrass

2.47

BFT/Tall Fescue

2.53

Mean

2.91

CV* percent

14.7

LSD* at 5 percent

0.65

*BFT: Birdsfoot trefoil, CV: coefficient of variation, LSD: least significant difference

Table 2. Forage Quality of Alfalfa and Birdsfoot trefoil with Cool-Season Grasses (First Cut, 2012).

Species

CP (percent)

ADF (percent)

NDF (percent)

Alfalfa/Orchardgrass

13.7

30.8

49.7

Alfalfa/Festulolium

11.2

28.2

46.5

Alfalfa/Tall Fescue

16.8

27.7

44.2

BFT/Festulolium

8.80

26.5

48.0

BFT/Orchardgrass

12.0

30.2

53.6

BFT/Tall Fescue

11.3

28.3

53.4

Mean

12.3

28.6

49.2

CV percent

7.5

4.5

3.8

LSD at 5 percent

1.7

2.4

3.4

 

Table 3. Forage Quality of Alfalfa- and Birdsfoot trefoil with Cool-Season Grasses (Second Cut, 2012).

Species

CP (percent)

ADF (percent)

NDF (percent)

 Alfalfa/Orchardgrass

11.3

34.7

55.2

Alfalfa/Festulolium

8.3

35.4

57.3

Alfalfa/Tall Fescue

13.1

30.8

48.1

BFT/Festulolium

 9.0

35.8

57.0

BFT/Orchardgrass

11.1

36.0

55.8

BFT/Tall Fescue

12.1

33.1

56.5

Mean

10.8

34.3

55.0

CV percent

 8.9

3.0

6.4

LSD at 5 percent

1.8

1.9

6.4

 

Table 4. Forage Quality of Alfalfa- and Birdsfoot trefoil with Cool-Season Grasses (Third Cut, 2012).

Species

CP (percent)

ADF (percent)

NDF (percent)

 Alfalfa/Orchardgrass

14.1

31.1

49.7

Alfalfa/Festulolium

17.8

28.6

40.2

Alfalfa/Tall Fescue

15.8

28.7

46.3

BFT/Festulolium

13.6

31.6

51.2

BFT/Orchardgrass

11.5

32.8

53.3

BFT/Tall Fescue

12.1

30.9

57.1

Mean

14.2

30.6

49.6

CV percent

10.9

4.8

6.3

LSD at 5 percent

2.8

2.7

5.7

Two legumes such as alfalfa and birdsfoot trefoil were planted with three common grass species such as orchardgrass, festulolium, and tall fescue in 2011. As shown in Table 1, first cutting had the highest forage yields when compared to second and third cuttings and as cuttings proceeded forage yields decreased. Alfalfa with festulolium had the highest forage yield whereas birdsfoot trefoil with orchardgrass had the lowest. Alfalfa with festulolium had significantly higher yields than alfalfa with tall fescue. However, alfalfa with tall fescue had a higher forage quality than alfalfa with either Festulolium or orchardgrass (Tables 2, 3 and 4). Festulolium is a cross between meadow fescue and either Italian ryegrass or perennial ryegrass. In our previous trials in the U.P., festulolium was much winter hardier than perennial ryegrass. In birdsfoot trefoil binary mixtures, birdsfoot trefoil with either orchardgrass or tall fescue had higher forage quality than birdsfoot trefoil with festulolium. Since forage needs to be evaluated based on both yield and quality, alfalfa with either orchardgrass or tall fescue appears to make better legume-grass mixtures than other binary mixtures in the central U.P. region.

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