ISU Field Day Explores Integrating Cover Crop and Livestock Operations

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Cover Crop field day attendees

ISU Allee Demonstration Farm manager Lyle Rossiter (far right) explains
how he plants cereal rye as a cover crop and manages grazing.


NEWELL, Iowa -- Attendees at the “Successful Cover Crop Use in Beef Production” Iowa State University field day learned and saw the latest results of research at the ISU Allee Demonstration Farm near Newell. The focus of the event, according to Iowa State Extension and Outreach field agronomist Rebecca Vittetoe, was to help farmers learn how they might integrate cereal rye as a cover crop with both stocker cattle and row crops. Vittetoe, who also is co-coordinator for the project, said the three-year study is exploring how grazing of cereal rye affects soil fertility and compaction.

“We know that cover crops have benefit as green manure and can help improve soil structure,” she said. “But can they also be grazed by cattle and still maintain these agronomic benefits?”

Erika Lundy, beef program specialist with Iowa Beef Center at Iowa State and project co-coordinator, said the project also is looking at nutritional aspects in the beef cattle diet related to the cover crop.

“We are also sampling the cereal rye to determine its nutritional value," Lundy said. "Early in the growing season, the moisture content of the forage is very high, which limits total consumption by the animal." To counter the reduction in consumption and provide necessary minerals, 2½ pounds of a distillers-based supplement are provided daily per animal.

Joel De Jong, Extension field agronomist, said it’s important to think ahead. Some herbicides used earlier for the row crop may prevent successful establishment of the cover crop or prevent grazing of the cover crop for a period of time after establishment.

Mike Henderson, district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, told the group that in order to apply for crop insurance in NW Iowa (Zone 3), the cover crop must be terminated at or before planting the crop. However, in order to reduce yield drag on the row crop to be planted, Extension agronomists recommend terminating cereal rye 10 days prior to planting.

Iowa State extension agricultural engineer Mark Hanna said proper planter setting is critical for the row crop, and advises placing the corn seed at a soil depth of 2 inches using down pressure to ensure consistency of seed placement and having the disk openers set such that they would hold a piece of paper.

Many of the field day attendees are already integrating their livestock enterprises into their row crop systems and using cover crops. The field day shared some insight on what’s been learned in the grazing cover crop project to date, and included feedback from producers on their successes and challenges. The speakers provided attendees with research based information about how they can manage their cover crops to get the most value out of them.

This grazing cover crop project is in year one of three and being conducted at three of ISU’s outlying research farms. Future field days are being planned to showcase cover crop seeding and establishment in the fall and the logistical considerations with grazing cover crops. The project is funded by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and the Iowa Beef Center.


The Iowa Beef Center at Iowa State University was established in 1996 with the goal of supporting the growth and vitality of the state’s beef cattle industry. It comprises faculty and staff from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and College of Veterinary Medicine, and works to develop and deliver the latest research-based information regarding the beef cattle industry. For more information about IBC, visit

Beth Doran, ISU Extension and Outreach beef program specialist, 712-737-4230,


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