Cover Crop Grazing 101: Get Your Plan Together

Understanding livestock and soil health goals, crop rotation and soil types can help no-tillers make grazing cover crops a more profitable venture.

Pictured Above: WHICH METHOD? Whether it’s a box drill, air drill, broadcast spreader or planter, no-tillers seeking to graze livestock on cover crops have important equipment decisions to make — not only to seed covers, but also to work through the residue when planting cash crops, says Jim Johnson, soils and crops consultant for the Samuel R. Noble Foundation. Above, an air drill was used to seed clover and canola in alternating rows

Cover crop grazing isn’t one-size-fits-all, particularly in a dryland no-tilling situation, and it’s not something to be entered into without serious study. 

But with some thorough planning and on-farm testing to find multi-species mixes suited to local climates and soils, mixed cover crops can do double duty, says Jim Johnson. 

The soils and crops consultant for the Samuel R. Noble Foundation says it’s been widely shown that cover crop grazing offers benefits including improved soil biology and increased soil life, higher soil organic matter, better soil structure and fertility, increased water infiltration and moisture-holding capacity of the soil, and increased production through seasonally available forage. 

High Quantity 

Well-managed cover mixes can decrease weed problems and provide a higher quantity of forage for livestock. Frequently, forage quality improves over long periods of time. 

Grazing cover crops is a way to turn them from an expense into a profit center, Johnson says. In addition, properly executed grazing on top of cover cropping will speed up the rate of soil health improvement.

For example, Leedey, Okla., no-tiller Jimmy Emmons and…

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