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Soil Health Resource GuideBrassicaGrassGrazing/ Animal Health

Which Cover Crops are Best for Grazing?

By December 10, 2019July 14th, 2020No Comments

Grasses are king when it comes to growing cover crops for supplemental grazing. In addition to being the highest yielding family of cover crops, they are vital in reaching other cover cropping goals such as reducing erosion, building organic matter, and suppressing weeds. Warm-season C4 plants such as sorghum sudan and pearl millet are popular summer choices and cool-season cereals, such as cereal rye, triticale, oats, barley, and wheat are often used in both spring and fall. Refer to pages 44-47 for more information on grasses.

Legumes do not necessarily produce relatively high amounts of forage, but what they lack in quantity, they make up for in quality. Properly selected legumes can be excellent compliments to their grass cousins in a diverse grazing mix and can really enhance animal gain and performance. See pages 42-43 for more detailed information on legumes.

Brassicas are also excellent team players when it comes to grazing mixes. Both the leaves and the tubers are high in protein and sulfur and their ability to regrow prolifically after grazing makes collards, turnips, kale, radishes, and other brassicas a vital part of a forage mix. See pages 48-49 for brassica information.

Timing Matters: When it comes to producing forage tonnage, it’s not only the “What” that is important but also the “When”. In a University of Nebraska Lincoln grazing trial, oats planted as a cover crop on August 20th after alfalfa yielded 3,800 pounds of dry matter (DM) per acre. Oats planted two weeks after corn harvested for silage yielded 2,800 pounds of DM per acre. Oats planted an additional two after this would yield barely 1,000 pounds. If grazing in fall is your goal, spring cereals planted 5-6 weeks prior to the first frost date are the best choice for rapid growth and good yields in fall. If spring grazing is your aim, then fall planting winter-hardy species like cereal rye, winter triticale, and winter barley provides early, rapid-growing cover crops for spring. UNL Beef specialist Mary Drewnoski says, “Cereal rye is the best choice if you’re looking for a grass that comes on early as it gets going a week to two weeks earlier than other winter-hardy species, but forage quality of cereal rye declines with maturity. By mid-April in Nebraska, you can expect fall-seeded cereal rye to yield 1,000 to 1,500 pounds per acre and by mid-May, you can expect yields to climb to 4,000 to 5,000 pounds per acre.”


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