Using cover crops for forage
Cover crops can be used to extend the grazing season or to produce quality forage.
There are definite benefits in including cover crops in your crop rotation. You can grow some of your nitrogen needs, improve water infiltration, reduce soil erosion and reduce weed pressure and soil crusting. One of the areas where there has been a steady increase in cover crop usage has been for livestock feed.
Grazing of cover crops is an excellent way to extend or get a jump on the grazing season. In the fall and early winter livestock can enjoy a salad bowl of different grasses, legumes and brassicas. Depending on the weather and species planted, fall grazing can be extended into Dec. or later. Overwintering grasses and legumes can be grazed off in the spring before row crops are planted. The added benefit of erosion control plus feed is an economic incentive for farms.
Cover crops can also be chopped and used as feed. Grasses, such as sudex, ryegrass, rye and triticale, as well as legumes are excellent feed. Depending on planting they can be chopped in the fall or spring. Many farms see the value of using “cocktail” mixes. Cocktail mixes are using more than one cover crop species. Using the mixes is a good way to mitigate any risks as well as reducing the cost of seed in some cases.
Farmers who are interested in integrating covers into their cropping systems or for using them as a feed source are invited to attend the Mid-Michigan Cover Crop Field Tour on Oct. 30, 2013. We will be visiting four sites looking at a variety of cover crops. One stop will be specifically focused on grazing. Registration is required to ensure enough spaces on the bus. For more information contact Jerry Lindquist, Michigan State University Extension forage educator, 231-832-6139; Christina Curell, MSU Extension water quality/nutrient management educator, 231-832-2732; or Greg White, USDA-NRCS, 231-832-2950. To register, contact the MSU Extension office in Lake County at 231-745-2732.