Cover crop mixture trial in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula — Part 2: Feed quality

Michigan State University Extension staff continues to explore cover crop specie options that grow well in northern climates.

April 23, 2018 - Author: , and Ashley McFarland

Mini silos used to ensile the cover crop mixtures. Photo by Chris Kapp, MSU.
Mini silos used to ensile the cover crop mixtures. Photo by Chris Kapp, MSU.

Very little practical research data exists on cover crop mixture success in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, so a team of Michigan State University researchers recently developed a project to help inform cover crop implementation in the region. Funding through Project GREEEN allowed researchers from the Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center to collaborate with Steve Brock Diary Farm to establish replicated cover crop plots with 10 different mixtures (Table 1).

Planting took place Aug. 30, 2016, and data was collected Oct. 17, 2016, and June 16, 2017. Cover crop mixtures were evaluated on yield and nutrient content. This article will discuss the results of the cover crop mixture feed quality after being ensiled for 263 days. To learn about the yield and dry matter content at harvest, read “Cover crop mixture trial in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – Part 1: Yield.”

After harvesting with a flail mower, samples were ensiled into 2-foot-long, 8-inch diameter PVC pipes. A press was used to compact the silage within the mini silo, then rubber end caps and hose clamps were used to enclose the PVC tube. Mini-silos were placed in an unheated pole barn out of direct sunlight and allowed to ferment. Target levels for grass silage, according to Dairyland Laboratories, is a dry matter between 30 and 40 percent and a pH between 4.3-4.7. Grass is optimally harvested during or prior to boot stage of maturity. As grass becomes more mature, yield usually increases while quality decreases.

Making sure you are achieving the proper dry matter content when you harvest grass forages is very importation for nutrition and preservation. According to Lallemand Animal Nutrition, forages harvested harvest below 30 percent dry matter are at risk from effluent loss and clostridial fermentation, while forages over 35 percent risk losses due to anaerobic instability.

If evaluating our mixtures with these quality standards in mind, our dry matter content at harvest should be improved to avoid effluent loss. If you refer to Part 1 of this article, you can see balancing the yield and quality of an ensiled cover crop can be challenging. As a producer, you have to determine the cover mixture and harvest time that fits with your production needs.

Special acknowledgment to the staff at the MSU Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center for their work on this trial, including Christian Kapp and Andy Bahrman.

Monica Jean, MSU Extension field crops educator, at 906-786-3032 or atkinmon@anr.msu.edu, or Ashley McFarland, Upper Peninsula Research and Extension coordinator, at 906-439-5176 or ashleymc@msu.edu.

For more information on cover crops, visit the MSU Extension Cover Crops or Midwest Cover Crop Council websites.

Table 1. Cover crop mixture content by species and percentage in the mixture are outlined. Seeding rates used and company marketing the mixtures are also included. 
Mixture #Mixture speciesSpecies % of mixSeeding rate (lbs/ac)Marketer
1  Winter Triticale (Hy Octane) 85.85 40 La Crosse Seed, LLC
SF Select BR Radish 6.9
Balansa Clover  3.49
2 Winter Rye (Guardian) 70.2 30 La Crosse Seed, LLC
Crimson Clover (VNS) 19.78
SF Select BR Radish 7.88
3 Winter Triticale (Hy Octane) 48.75 40
Austrian Winter peas 37.43
SF Select BR Radish 5.92
Vivant Brassica 3.94
Impact Forage Collards 1.98
4 Winter Triticale (VNS) 81.85 40 La Crosse Seed, LLC
Crimson Clover (VNS) 9.84
Tillage Radish 7.44
5 Winter Triticale (VNS) 86.21 100 Byron Seeds
Allegro Italian Ryegrass 8.62
Crimson Clover (VNS) 1.72
Common Medium Red Clover 0.86
Hairy Vetch 0.86
Nitro Radish 0.86
Essex Rape  0.86
6 Winter Rye 86.21 100 Byron Seeds
Allegro Italian Ryegrass 8.62
Crimson Clover (VNS) 1.72
Common Medium Red Clover 0.86
Hairy Vetch 0.86
Nitro Radish 0.86
Essex Rape  0.86
7 Winter Rye (Graze king 90) 73.53 50 Cisco Seeds
Scav-N-Ger Radish 4.41
Annual Ryegrass (Feast II) 22.06
8 Winter Barley 73.53 50 Cisco Seeds
Scav-N-Ger Radish 4.41
Annual Ryegrass (Feast II) 22.06
9 Winter Triticale (Forerunner) 73.53 50 Cisco Seeds
Scav-N-Ger Radish 4.41
Annual Ryegrass (Feast II) 22.06
10 Winter Rye (Graze king 90)   100 Cisco Seeds

Table 2. Feed quality of ensiled cover crop mixtures composite sampled 263 days post-harvest.
Mixture #Moisture, %pHCrude Protein, ADF, aNDF, Sugar, WSC2TDN,RFV
% of DM1% of DM% of DM % of DM
1 82.44 4.7 13.76 36.47 58.9 2.37 64.89 95.66
2 81.98 4.71 11.34 40.42 62.2 0.9 63.68 85.89
3 82.81 4.87 12.44 38.32 59.9 0.93 64.32 91.55
4 80.78 4.04 11.15 35.64 53.7 3.31 65.15 106.17
  81.32 4.15 12.07 35.9 54.9 3.11 65.07 103.44
6 80.27 4.97 10.24 45.25 67.9 0.91 62.18 73.61
7 77.61 4.72 9.45 39.99 60.8 0.95 63.8 88.19
8 78.07 4.12 9.97 33.42 53.5 4.26 65.83 109.17
9 80.74 3.65 12.22 31.89 48.6 2.98 66.31 122.66
10 75.39 4.74 8.3 48.88 73.4 0.96 61.07 64.21

Dry Matter (DM)

2 Water-soluble carbohydrates (WSC) includes monosaccharaides, disaccharides, oligosaccharides and fructans.

Tags: agriculture, agriculture, agriculture and agribusiness, agriculture and agribusiness, cover crops, cover crops, field crops, field crops, msu extension, msu extension


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