Mending Pastures After Excessive Rains

Wet Pasture Cows grazing in wet, saturated pasture.

This summer’s rainy, severe weather has had quite a negative effect on pasture quality. Visiting several grazing farms over the last month, we have seen that many dairy herds have been periodically housed and fed in the barn or barnyard in order to help preserve pasture stands, soil quality and animal health. In some cases, as with dairy heifers or beef cows, herds have been moved up on higher ground with somewhat better drainage, to help manage mud and decrease compaction issues. Some farmers have chosen to run their herds through tall stands of grass that may have otherwise been cut for hay. Although, animals will waste a lot of this lower quality mature forage, the upside is that what they trample will form a mat that can help reduce pasture damage.

However, even with these tactics, it has been challenging. Animal traffic on wet soils can cause soil compaction; pugging (holes) from hooves, leading to rough surfaces; areas of bare soil; potential runoff issues; and reduced plant density and yield. If despite your best efforts, your pastures are showing signs of this kind of damage, there are some basic things you can do now that some sunny weather is on the horizon and soils dry out a bit.

If pastures appear to have less plant density, using the UVM Extension no-till drill to plant new seed may be an option to bump up the diversity and species composition. There are numerous options for this depending on your goals, system, etc. One option would be to drill in grass species such as perennial ryegrass or orchard grass mixed with a legume such as Ladino clover. Another option would be to try an annual crop such as oats, triticale, or turnip for fall grazing. In some cases, it may be easiest to broadcast the seed and then turn the cows in to help stomp the seed into the ground.

For pastures that are severely pugged (also called ‘ankle breakers’) you may consider running a harrow to help smooth out the soil surface, and then planting your choice of seed. For large areas of bare soil that have developed extending from gates, water tubs and other heavy use areas, consider a crop like tillage radish. It can be seeded alone or mixed with a grass such as ryegrass and seeded at 10# per acre. Last year, we saw success seeding tillage radish into a heavy use area at this rate, yielding both nutritious tops that can be grazed after 45 days and large tap roots that help break up soil compaction.

To sign up to use the drill or to discuss seeding options to help amend summer pastures, producers are encouraged to call the Middlebury UVM Extension office at 388-4969.


Cover Crops as Forage Crops…A Look at Winter Rye and Triticale

Deer Valley Farm harvesting winter rye for round bale silage just before tilling it under and planting corn.
Deer Valley Farm harvesting winter rye for round bale silage just before tilling it under and planting corn.

by Kirsten Workman, Agronomy Outreach Professional

‘Double Cropping’ or the practice of harvesting two crops from the same field in one year is not a new concept by any means.  However, as more and more farmers in the Champlain Valley are starting to look at cover crops as part of their crop rotation, it becomes a very viable option to evaluate harvesting them for forage.  The most popular cover crop planted here in Vermont after corn silage is Winter Rye.  Recently, however, we have started to see more and more farmers plant Winter Triticale (a cross between winter rye and winter wheat) for its purported value as a forage crop.  This spring, several producers harvested winter rye and triticale for forage.  We were able to collect forage samples in an attempt to compare them to each other and get a better sense of the overall value of these crops as forage. 

 We collected samples from three farms on five fields.  The farms we collected samples from were located in Williston, North Ferrisburgh, and Wells, Vermont.  The farms were harvesting these cover crops as baleage or grazing them.  We calculated yields and sent the samples for analysis.  Below is a table with our results, averaged by crop.  The fields were all no-till drilled in late September at between 100 and 150 lbs/acre (after corn silage or into pasture) and harvested in mid-May.  All of the crops were fertilized in the spring (with Urea or solid dairy manure).  The majority of samples were taken at harvest during the split-boot stage (Feekes stage 10).  The yield measurements represent one harvest, and do not account for multiple harvests.  The pasture was grazed a second time in early June and that harvest would increase overall yields.

 Overall, in our samples, triticale performed better than rye from a forage quality standpoint.  Rye, however, outperforms in yields, sometimes by double.  One of our triticale samples tested out at 22% protein when harvested at the split boot stage, but our samples averaged out at 17% CP.  The rye was not far behind at 16% CP.  We also found that planting at higher rates increased yields and quality.


 In Alburgh, VT UVM Extension Agronomist, Dr. Heather Darby found similar results with her winter rye planting trials.  She found similar dry matter yields over the 2011 and 2012 seasons.  They didresults see lower crude protein levels at closer to 12% (our rye samples averaged 16% crude protein).

 Aaron Gabriel, of Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Capital Area Agriculture and Horticulture Program also collected samples on four fields this May that were each planted to rye and triticale.  Although they did not collect yield data, the protein levels were also lower than ours.  Rye averaged 12.7% CP while triticale averaged 14.6% CP.  Their relative feed values were very close to what we found…both crops averaging well over 100.

 Like all crops, yield and quality all depend on management. Planting and harvesting in a timely manner, a good fertility program, and appropriate soils will have the most impact on growing a high quality, high yielding crop.  In these situations, either crop would fit the bill.  If you are hoping to get a crop off early in order to get your long season corn or soybeans established, winter rye might be a better fit. 

 Although dry matter yields are the best way to compare results, it is important to note that from a feed management standpoint, rye yielded up to 4 tons per acre of baleage (assuming 55% moisture) and closer to 5 tons/acre of chopped silage (assuming 65% moisture).  Triticale yielded between around 2 tons/acre at 55% moisture and almost 3 tons/acre at 65% moisture. 

 For a cost of $35 per acre to seed these cover crops, a farmer can see a return of between $80 and $200 in feed value (depending on your yields).


This winter rye measured in at 36" at harvest time during the split boot stage.  It yielded almost 2 dry matter tons per acre.
This winter rye measured in at 36″ at harvest time during the split boot stage. It yielded almost 2 dry matter tons per acre.

Overall, triticale matures later than rye and is shorter with less biomass.  It did test out as higher quality feed in our sampling, but was inconclusive

statistically. Rye does yield higher.  In one field where rye was planted right next to triticale in the same field, the rye produced 1.49 DM tons per acre while the triticale yielded 0.91 DM tons per acre.  In our observations, triticale seed is often more expensive and harder to get a hold of.  Although, that may change as more producers purchase it over time.  We found that seeding at higher rates closer to 150 pounds/acre gives higher yields and better quality (higher protein, lower NDF) than fields seeded at a lower rate of 100 pounds per acre. 

 An additional one or two dry matter tons per acre of quality feed is not a bad return on the investment of seed.  Add to that the erosion prevention you accomplish over the winter and early spring, the nutrient recycling that occurs, and the soil health benefits of increased organic matter, better soil structure, and it seems like it makes sense in most cases.  If you are unable to harvest these crops as forage and must plow or burn them down with herbicide, they can contribute significant amounts of nutrients back to your soil profile, enabling you to reduce fertilizer inputs.  Rye provided 45 to 90 pounds of nitrogen, an average of 9 pounds of Phosphorus and 80 pounds of potassium; while triticale provided an between 45 and 65 pounds of nitrogen, 5.5 pounds of phosphorus, and 45 pounds of potassium (per acre).

 All in all, a well-managed rye or triticale crop can improve  soil health, water quality, and could become an important part of your feeding program.  We will keep you posted as we continue to look at these cover crops in Vermont.

More Reading:

 Aaron Gabriel’s winter rye/triticale results – Cornell Cooperative Extension

Winter triticale that was drilled into a pasture in September being rotationally grazed the following May.
Winter triticale that was drilled into a pasture in September being rotationally grazed the following May.

 Dr. Heather Darby’s 2012 Winter Rye Research – UVM Extension

 Dr. Heather Darby’s 2011 Winter Rye Planting Date Research – UVM Extension

 Dr. Heather Darby’s 2011 Winter Rye Seeding Rate Research – UVM Extension



Fact Sheets from the Grazing Symposium

Four separate fact sheets are now available from Sarah Flack’s presentation at our April 1st Grazing Symposium. Simply click on the links below to view them.


Champlain Valley Grazing Symposium – April 1st, 2013


Monday, April 1st   *   10:00 am – 2:30 pm

American Legion, Vergennes, VT

$20 registration includes a hot lunch and some great door prizes. 

Join the discussion and step up your grazing skills this coming season!  

Come hear grazing expert, Sarah Flack provide helpful tips to fine-tune your existing grazing system. She’ll also discuss the most common grazing mistakes and how to avoid them for increased pasture potential. Sarah has a diverse background in sustainable agriculture, which includes both on-farm and academic experience.  Her current work includes writing, public speaking and consulting with farms and organization to help farmers transition to new methods of farming including grass based, diversified, and organic.  She also works with several organic certification organizations as a consultant, and inspector. She received her master’s degree in Plant and Soil Science from the University of Vermont, where she studied grazing management with Dr. Bill Murphy.

Sarah Flack

Farmer Guy Choiniere of Highgate,Vermont will share his strategies for producing top quality forage, which allows him to maintain a 50-55 pound per cow production average on 6 pounds of grain per cow. Guy is passionate about soil health and building soil fertility. By making the soil a priority, it forms a foundation for him to build crop, animal and human health, as well. Guy says, “A successful farming system is a sustainable farming system.”

Guy and family

Farmer Brent Beidler of Randolph Center, Vermont will discuss his successes with annual crops such as millet, forage oats, turnips and others to increase overall pasture productivity. Brent will also cover the importance of variable paddock sizes and how he maximizes forages to minimize grain feeding. In addition to dairy production, the Beidlers have also ventured into growing grains and milling flour on the farm. Brent has played an important role in the formation of the Northern Grain Growers Association.

Brent Beidler

 Register at:

or call Donna at 388-4969.

See you there!

 Funding for this program is provided by USDA-RMA, USDA-NRCS, and UVM Extension

Grazing Road Trip


UVM Extension Grazing Specialists Kim Hagen and Cheryl Cesario (taking the picture) spent the day last week with Willie Gibson of NOFA-VT and grazing expert Darrell Emmick from NY state. The group visited an organic dairy farm in East Montpelier and a grass-fed beef operation in Waitsfield. They spent a whirlwind day discussing topics such as large herd grazing planning, forage quality and quantity, and reclaiming pasture land.