North Central Research Extension Center


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Late Grazing Cover Crops

By: John Dhuyvetter

Interest has grown in planting cover crops for soil protection, soil health and additional feed. This year there has been a notable increase in cover crop plantings, particularly on prevent plant acres which were too wet for spring seeding.

Producers have the opportunity to collect full prevent plant insurance coverage if planted to a recommended cover and not harvested until November 1st. A number of cattle producers established cover crop mixes in late July and early August with this intention. Warm season species as millet and sorghum have frozen back and dried down; while frost tolerant species as turnips, radish and cereals remain green and vegetative.

As November approaches, the utilization as late season grazing will be determined by the weather. Wet fields will increase trampling losses while heavy snow will lay down and cover shorter and more tender plants. Grazing efficiency can be improved by fencing and allocating grazing or in the case of frost dried material swathing into windrows.

While grazing risks or hazards are likely low some managerial precautions are suggested. Some forage clippings analyzed for nitrates can help determine if plants were stressed and accumulated nitrate to an extent that may be of concern. Turning out on lush green fields should be tempered by allowing annuals to take on a fill of hay or pasture grazing just prior.

Since some of the lush cover crops are low in fiber, allowing access to pasture or fields, or placing straw or hay in the field will allow cattle an opportunity for more optimum ruminant fiber intake. For the first several days, cattle should be monitored for bloat or other digestive upset.

Nutritional quality can be expected to be high. Lactating cows will likely pick up in production and increase body condition. Calf gains can be very good while quantity and intake is high.

Good access to adequate water is especially critical until show cover is received. If fields lack natural wind breaks; temporary protection can be provided with portable wind fences or access to sheltered areas, particularly latter in the year as temperatures fall.

If using cover crop plantings as grazed feed it’s important to also recognize the value to the soil and its biology. Care should be taken to not remove all cover and expose land to erosion. Materials trampled and left contribute to organic matter and nutrient cycling.

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