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Cattle producers to use cover crops to graze

South Dakota

South Dakota cattle producers looking for a new source of grazing for fall and winter months should consider cover crops planted after small grain harvest.

The cover crop species generally called brasiccas, which includes turnips, canola, radishes and rape, make excellent forage for livestock says rangeland management specialist Brent Woods with the Natural Resources Conservation Service Parkston. "Cover crops are usually established after small grain harvest around the beginning of August," Woods said. "The seed can either be drilled or broadcast."

Brasiccas are short season root crops that produce an abundance of top growth providing grazing in about 60 days. Woods said a recent study tracking 141 cow-calf pairs grazing brasiccas for 16 days showed a $66 per acre net profit. "The calves gained about 3.1 pounds per day. Figuring about $1.09 per pound, they would return about $111 gross income. Expenses were $20 seed cost, $13 seeding costs and $12 herbicide for a total of $45 in expenses."

Other benefits to grazing cover crops include additional rest for pastures, soil quality improvements and greater ease of springtime planting.

Strip grazing is recommended to prevent cover crop trampling and to help livestock adjust to the forage. Woods says samples taken from brassicas last year show the forage to be high in energy and protein, but low in fiber. The crude protein of the turnips/brassicas mixture was right around 22 percent, digestible nutrients were rated at 77 percent and the mixture had a relative feed value of 303.

With small grain harvest underway in southern counties and moving north, now is the time for producers to lay plans for seeding cover crops for livestock grazing. Interested producers should visit with an agronomist or their local NRCS staff for science-based information on cover crops and for networking contacts to help producers at any point in their soil conservation efforts.

Additional information is available at: www.sd.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/CoverCrops.html and the SD No-till Association website at: www.sdnotill.com. These sites contain additional links to valuable cover crop information.

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