Cathryn Davis, Agronomy, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS, DeAnn R. Presley, Department of Agronomy, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS, Jaymelynn Farney, Animal Science, Kansas State University, Parsons, KS and Gretchen F. Sassenrath, 25092 Ness Rd., Kansas State University, Parsons, KS
Cover crops offer potential benefits for improving soil health as well as providing supplemental forage. However they can be expensive due to establishment and management costs. One way for farmers to recover these costs is to graze the forage. This offers prospective benefits to producers by integrating crop and animal production. More information is needed on the potential forage quantity and quality for livestock grazing cover crops and cover crop cocktail mixes. It has been suggested that different plant species complement each other. However research is needed to determine best practices to balance forage production, as well as competition between various species in a mix. In August 2014, sixteen treatments were drill seeded at the Southeast Kansas Research Station near Columbus, Kansas. Each treatment consisted of a three-way mix representing popular cover crops from the plant families Brassicaceae, Poaceae, and Fabaceae. Eight species were planted, Forage radish (Raphanus sativus), Purple top turnip (Brassica rapa), Oat (Avena sativa), Rye (Secale cereale), Barley (Hordeum vulgare), Wheat (Triticum aestivium), Austrian winter pea (Pisum sativum subsp. arvense), and Berseem clover (Trifolium alexandrinum). The plots were clipped at 30, 60 and 90 day intervals. The clipped biomass was then evaluated to determine biomass, species composition, and forage quality parameters including acid detergent fiber (ADF), neutral detergent fiber (NDF), crude protein content, and the relative feed value (RFV). The biomass average across all treatments was 1455, 3340, and 2422 kg/ha-1 of dry matter at 30, 60, and 90 days respectively, corresponding to RFV average values of 418, 415, and 393. Results from the first year of the study indicate that the optimum grazing period would be at 60 days after planting for these particular mixes.