Carrington cover crop

Research agronomist Mike Ostlie explains the planter used for inter-seeding the cover crop in corn. Photo by Dale Hildebrant

CARRINGTON, N.D. – There have been many studies conducted on cover crops and the impact they have on soil health and cropping programs. But up to now, little research has been done that provides actual data on how livestock can benefit from a cover crop program.

Some of those questions may be answered after a recently initiated trial at the Carrington Research Extension Center (CREC) that will focus on feedlot-aged calves and late fall cover crop grazing. This year is the first year of a three-year program, and a workshop was held on Sept. 17 at the Carrington REC that was designed to share various details of this study.

Mike Ostlie, research agronomist at the CREC, noted the Carrington site in a rather unique position in terms of research such as this and such work is likely to continue beyond the life of this certain project.

“There aren’t a lot of other places that can do this type of research, at least in North Dakota,” he said. “So continuing this line of thought will be very important.”

Outline of the project

A cover crop mix was inter-seeded into an 85-day corn at approximately the v5 stage of growth and after harvesting the wheat crop in that part of the trial. A fencing system has been installed around the former wheat plot and calves will be turned out once the cover crop is large enough to be grazed.

Planting the cover crop in the corn was accomplished by using a four-row plate type planter that had the units slide over seven inches on the tool bar, thus allowing the cover crop to be seeded that distance from the corn row. Since both large and small seeded cover crops were used, different planter plates were used for the large and small cover crop seed.

On the corn side of the plot, the corn will be harvested and then five calves will be put into that area to graze the cover crop, unharvested corn and corn residue. Plans call for the calves to graze the cover crop and corn residues for about a 60-day period, or until snow depth interferes with the calves grazing.

Five calves from the same group of calves will also be fed separately under feedlot conditions at the CREC.

At the end of the cover crop feeding trial, data between the cover crop calves and feedlot calves will measured, according to Bryan Neville, CREC animal scientist. Some of factors that will be compared include feed efficiency, animal performance and carcass data.  

 Another interesting part of this trial is the fact that not all of the information will be coming from research done at the center, but also from three cooperators who had a rye cover crop aerially planted into standing corn and will later there will be grazing calves in the cover crop. These cooperators are from the LaMoure, Grace City and McCluskey areas, with one planning to harvest his corn field for silage and the other two expected to take a grain crop from the field.

“The neat thing about this is we do actually have cooperators who are actual farmers,” said Mary Keena, Extension livestock environmental management specialist. “We will have some real-life advice coming from these folks.”

At the CREC, data will be collected on soil compaction caused by livestock grazing cover crops and also if any issues are caused by the livestock manure.

As early as this winter, some of the results from the first year of the study should be available, according to Ostlie. The CREC will be taking an active role in some of the cover crop CAFÉ talks that will be scheduled late in the winter. Results of this study will be shared at that time and a more complete breakdown of the first-year results will be made available during the annual CREC Field Day which is held in mid-July.

Funding for this program was made possible through a grant by a North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant.

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