Evaluation of Grazing or Harvesting Cereal Rye in Corn-Soybean Rotation: Understanding Impacts in an Integrated Crop-Beef Cattle Operation


Dr. Dan Shike, UIUC Animal Sciences
Dr. Andrew Margenot, UIUC Crop Sciences
Travis Meteer, UIUC Extension


Integrated crop and beef cattle operations require special consideration and planning to evaluate what systems will be the most mutually beneficial. The use of cover crops in cropping systems has gained popularity and has historically been utilized for the potential to improve soil health. However, these cover crops also offer potential benefits to livestock production. This multidisciplinary team will evaluate the impacts of including cover crops in an integrated crop and beef cattle operation. The central hypothesis is that grazing cover crops or harvesting cover crops for feed can generate short-term economic benefits in an integrated crop and beef cattle operation while still providing long-term conservation benefits and enhancement of soil health. We believe that understanding and quantifying the feed value of cover crops and the impact of grazing or harvesting cover crops on soil health will help producers make management decisions that balance dual goals of profitable beef production and sustainable soil management. Collectively, including cover crops in integrated operations will benefit both the individual farmer and society.

Objective 1: Determine the forage yield, quality and feed value of cereal rye when either grazed in the spring or mechanically harvested in the spring.

Objective 2: Determine the effects of grazing and mechanically harvesting cereal rye on soil health, with an emphasis on physical and biological soil health.       

This project will be conducted utilizing the Dudley Smith Farm (DS) in Pana, IL. We will utilize the 48 acres in the south field on the farm. Cover crop treatments include: cereal rye – no graze or harvest (CC), cereal rye – grazed (CC-G), cereal rye – mechanically harvested (CC-MH), and no cover crop (CON) and will be utilized in a corn/cover crop/soybean rotation. Each treatment would be replicated four times across the field. Cover crops will be drill seeded after corn harvest (ideally September). Cover crops will be grazed in the spring. Gestating beef cows or yearling heifers will graze at a stocking rate of one cow or heifer per acre. Mechanical harvest will occur in the spring. We will determine forage yield and quality of harvested cover crop and grazing days of grazed cover crop. Soil health, water quality, and soil carbon stocks will be assessed prior to cover crop will be assessed.

Additionally, the team aims to recruit a minimum of five cooperator operations that are actively operating integrated crop and beef cattle enterprises. The goal of this collaboration would be to initially seek feedback on proposed research objectives. However, the long-term goal of these cooperator operations would be to build a partnership for future proposals that would include the cooperators in on-farm research collaborations.

Project Resources

Fact Sheet

Status Update