Pasture walk in Osceola County to view grazing fall cover crop mixes

Livestock farms can lower their feeding costs in the fall by 40 percent or more by utilizing multi species cover crops for grazing.

Cows grazing multi species mix in November of 2014.

Cows grazing multi species mix in November of 2014.

The trend to graze blended mixtures of annual cover crops continues to grow across the Mid-West as livestock farms realize the practice not only provides a high quality forage to graze in late fall, but also improves soil quality by adding organic matter to the soil surface and to the sub-soil.

A pasture walk will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 27 from 5:30 – 7 p.m. on the Salinas beef farm near Marion. Participants will be able to view beef cattle grazing five different mixes of annual forage cover crops. These mixes include forage oats, dwarf essex rape, cereal grain rye, turnips, hybrid rape, forage radishes, collards and volunteer wheat. Michigan State University Extension agricultural educators have found these late summer planted crops can be highly productive and nutritious for cattle, sheep and goats in the fall when most pasture forages exhibit diminishing growth.

For each month that farms can graze these cover crops with their livestock, Michigan State University Extension Educators estimate that they will cut their feed costs by 40 percent if the alternative is to start feeding hay. For example it could be a savings of $15-25 per beef cow per month in feed costs. This savings estimate does takes into account the costs of seeding and fertilizing the cover crop mix.

The total financial benefit of this practice will be even greater as the cow herd will be recycling the forage into a truly green manure, adding nutrients and organic matter to the soil. The remaining cover crop stubble will provide winter protection on the soil by reducing soil and wind erosion. The plant stems and roots will add more organic matter to the soil as well when they decompose. This compounding benefit of adding plant materials into the soil, and the animal manure on top of the soil, is a great method of soil improvement. It will increase soil organic matter which will increase soil fertility, and improve the water holding capacity of the soil. It also provides stimulus for soil organisms like earth worms and other microscopic organism that improve soil quality even more.

Research has estimated that a practice like this can easily increase the soil organic matter, and thus fertility of the soil, by $60 – 80 per acre per year. This fertility improvement easily covers the cost of seed and the drilling of the cover crop. Thus the feed savings for the cow herd of an estimated $15 - 20 per cow per month grazed could easily be doubled if soil fertility improvement is factored in.

The event will take place at the Salinas Farm field at the corner of 15 Mile Road and 50th Ave, in Middle Branch Township of Osceola County. From the intersection of M-66 and M-115 travel two miles west on 15 Mile Road to the field location on the northeast corner. The 48 acre field of cover crops with grazing beef cattle will allow those attending to view the growth of the different crop mixtures, to see if there is an animal preference for a certain mix and to evaluate the cows and their resulting manure to estimate the nutritional attributes of the mix.

The walk is sponsored by MAEAP, MSU Extension and the NRCS Offices of Osceola Counties. It is part of a Soil Health Summer Series of Meetings that these organizations sponsored and Michigan Farm Bureau supported with a financial grant. USDA programs are open to all people. For more information contact me at the MSU Extension office at 231-832-6139 or Greg White at the NRCS office at 231-832-5341. Anyone needing special accommodations to attend the walk should notify one of these agencies before the day of the event.

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