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Natural Sciences Education Abstract - Student Essays

Ruminant Grazing of Cover Crops: Effects on Soil Properties and Agricultural Production


This article in NSE

  1. Vol. 39 No. 1, p. 49-39
    Received: Jan 18, 2010

    * Corresponding author(s): hpoffenb@gmail.com
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  1. Hanna Poffenbarger *
  1. c/o R.R. Weil, Dep. of Environmental Science and Technology, H.J. Patterson Hall, Univ. of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742


Integrating livestock into a cropping system by allowing ruminant animals to graze cover crops may yield economic and environmental benefits. The effects of grazing on soil physical properties, soil organic matter, nitrogen cycling and agricultural production are presented in this literature review. The review found that grazing cover crops generally led to increased bulk density, especially in no-till systems. On the other hand, the negative effects of grazing on penetration resistance and aggregate stability were more prominent under conventional tillage than no-till. The deleterious effects of grazing on soil physical properties were most severe when grazing was implemented at high intensity and on wet soils. Microbial biomass C was higher under grazed conditions than ungrazed conditions. Nitrogen was found to be higher when cover crops were grazed than not grazed; however, this was only true for conventional tillage systems. Generally, grazing cover crops did not negatively affect primary crop yields. Cover crops provided nutritious forage for cattle and reduced feed costs by offsetting the use of hay or other pasture.

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