Pasture Project

Increasingly, there is wide recognition within agriculture of the soil health benefits of cover crops.  However, far less is known about the simultaneous economic and environmental benefits of livestock grazing those cover crops. Grazing cover crops can more than defray the cost of seeding, generating additional farm income and cost savings of about $100-300+ per acre. At the same time, the livestock provide additional soil health benefits. Growers have been experimenting with "cocktail" cover crop mixes selected for healthy livestock weight gain. They then partner with a grazier or use their own sheep or goats to graze down the cover crops.

The Basics

A brief one page primer on grazing cover crops can be found here

Webinars

Kent Solberg of Sustainable Farming Association walks through what you need to know about planting cover crops. View the webinar here

Case Studies

The following videos present the experiences of two farmers from North Dakota and Iowa that have integrated cover crops with livestock grazing. 

A presentation by North Dakota farmer Gabe Brown at the National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health. This session explored the ways that cover crops can be integrated with livestock operations, including as forage for grazing in between cash crop growing seasons. Learn more at http://www.sare.org/covercropconference.

 

A presentation by Iowa farmer Craig Lang at the National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health. This session explored the ways that cover crops can be integrated with livestock operations, including as forage for grazing in between cash crop growing seasons. Learn more at http://www.sare.org/covercropconference.

 

Selecting and Planting

A presentation by Indiana farmer Mike Shuter at the National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health. Farmers have been creative in finding new ways to seed cover crops and testing the relative merits of various seeding approaches. This session featured a panel of farmers talking about their experiences with a variety of approaches to seeding and establishing cover crops.

 

A presentation by Kansas farmer Gail Fuller at the National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health. This session addressed the relative pros and cons of various cover crop species, including the less common cover crops and cover crops suited to grazing use. The Midwest Cover Crops Council selection tool for cover crops was also discussed.

 

Benefits of Grazing Cover Crops

A presentation by Jill Clapperton of Rhizoterra Inc. at the National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health. This session covered basic soil health principles necessary to build soil health, such as minimizing soil disturbance, keeping the soil covered at all times, growing a living root year round, and using plant diversity above ground to increase diversity below.

 

Research

An early study into the potential of grazing cover crops in the Corn Belt by Sulc and Tracy. Read the study here

 

The Pasture Project seeks to increase the number of acres under sustainable management in the Upper Mississippi River Basin by expanding the region's production of grass-fed livestock. For more information, contact Allison Van at avan@winrock.org or call 202-412-6509.