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Extension > Agriculture > Dairy Extension > Forages > Evaluation of annual cover crops for forage

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Evaluation of annual cover crops for forage

Jim Paulson, University of Minnesota

March 28, 2015

Our extension forage team identified certain cover crop species that needed investigation to establish cultural practices and nutritional value if utilized for forage. To be more profitable, dairy and beef producers need forages that can fill slumps in grazing systems, extend the grazing season and provide emergency cover and forage. Cattle producers are looking for ways to integrate cover crops into their cropping systems.

Therefore, the objectives of this research project were:

The following cover crop species were evaluated: annual rye grass, pearl millet, turnips, BMR sorghum/sudan, lentils, berseem clover, crimson clover, forage kale, forage rapeseed, tillage radish, fodder beets, sugar beets, forage peas, soybeans, Austrian winter peas, vetch, Rox Orange cane, Phacelia, forage oats, grazing corn, Camelina, spelt, teff, buckwheat, Sunn hemp, and BMR sorghum.

Plots were planted on June 24 and harvested on August 20. Stand and establishment data were obtained after seeding. A plot flail harvester was used and dry matter yields were determined. A sample of harvested forage was retained from selected plots for dry matter determination and forage quality analysis for crude protein, neutral detergent fiber (NDF), neutral detergent fiber digestibility and minerals. Forage quality analyses were conducted at a commercial laboratory using wet chemistry methods.

Forage nutrient analysis differed among species and ranged from a high of 24.0% crude protein for fodder beet tops to a low of 10.9% crude protein for BMR sorghum/sudan. TDN values showed the highest value for radish and turnip tops of 68.3% and 67.8% respectively; while being lowest for forage peas and lentils with 52.2% and 54.9%. Taller plants such as BMR sorghum/sudan and Rox Orange cane yielded greater amounts of dry matter while lush tops of radish, turnips and kale excelled in forage quality but were lower in dry matter yield per acre.

From these data, we can better recommend combinations of species to fit certain cover crop and grazing scenarios. For more information, contact Jim Paulson at jcp@umn.edu.

This project was funded by a grant from Midwest Forage Association.

Yield and forage analysis
Forage type DM kg/acre Ton/acre CP (%) NDF (%) LIGNIN (%) T.D.N. (%)
Kale 1239 1.36 23.2 39.0 4.5 65.2
Turnip 1600 1.76 17.2 28.6 2.4 67.9
Crimson clover 1371 1.51 20.4 38.1 3.9 63.6
Berseem clover 1013 1.11 22.4 38.5 6.6 60.9
Forage peas 2909 3.20 13.5 41.1 7.2 45.5
Phacelia 404 0.44 21.4 34.2 4.2 63.7
Forage oats 1436 1.58 16.6 51.0 3.7 62.2
Annual ryegrass 2183 2.40 21.7 37.9 5.4 60.6
Sugarbeet 2845 3.13 21.7 29.3 3.3 68.6
Fodder beets 1266 1.39 24.0 33.4 3.7 66.7
Soybeans 612 0.67 22.1 37.9 4.4 62.6
Lentils 566 0.62 14.8 49.7 4.8 52.2
Sunn hemp 1790 1.97 19.8 37.6 4.9 62.6
Teff 3059 3.36 17.7 59.0 4.0 60.2
BMR sorgh 4045 4.45 14.3 53.6 2.8 62.2
Sorg/sud 6580 7.23 10.9 56.1 3.3 48.4
Rox cane 9130 10.0 12.7 51.2 3.0 62.2
Pearl millet 3066 3.37 15.9 54.8 2.6 60.6
Buckwheat 1507 1.66 13.6 42.4 7.3 58.0
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