What are some perennial forages with high protein that a dairy farmer could grow in Vermont?

C.M. VermontAnswer: Vermont has a very well established forage livestock industry with many resources to assist the dairy grazier. Alfalfa provides high quality forage for many producers in the northeast, but it cannot be grown everywhere. However, there are many other legumes that can provide high quality forage for lactating dairy cattle, and some do not require as much management as alfalfa does.CloversTwo principle legumes to consider in northern Vermont are ladino white clover and red clover. These two species mix well with highly competitive grasses such as orchardgrass and meadow brome, and when mixed at about 30% with grasses can achieve crude protein levels greater than 25% while vegetative. In addition, these clovers tend to be somewhat prostrate in growth pattern making them more grazing tolerant than some other legumes, including alfalfa. Seeding rates for the clovers are about 2 to 4 pounds per acre for red clover and about 1 pound per acre of ladino white clover interseeded into grass. Clover can be frost-seeded in the spring (broadcast after snowmelt but before thaw) or drilled in the spring. It’s best to increase seeding rate by half for broadcast applications. Other legumesSome other legumes to consider are birdsfoot trefoil and cicer milkvetch. These highly palatable and nutritious cool-season legumes require more management than the clovers, but have the benefit of being completely bloat-free. Birdsfoot trefoil is a little more difficult to get going, but is relatively drought resistant and very productive when established. Varieties include prostrate or low-growing types such as Empire, Leo, or Dawn, erect or hay types such as Viking or Maitland, and semi-erect such as Norcen. The low-growing or semi-erect varieties would be best in grazing applications. Specific recommendations for interseeding birdsfoot trefoil include:? high seeding rate (8 to 12 pounds per acre, normal is 4 to 8 pounds per acre) and frost-seeded for increased germination and establishment? maintenance of neutral soil pH? maintenance of phosphorus fertility to encourage legume productivity (soil testing)? interseeded with less competitive cool-season grasses such as tall fescue, orchardgrass, or Kentucky bluegrass to maintain around a 30% legume portion of the pasture stand? yearly drill-seeded in the fall or frost-seeded at 4 to 5 pounds per acre to ensure stand persistence (based on observation of stand viability), and? grazing management to ensure stand persistence.Grazing management is particularly important for birdsfoot trefoil to remain productive. A grazing system that allows cattle to begin grazing birdsfoot trefoil when the plants are 8 to 10 inches tall and that leaves a stubble height of 5 inches should be adequate. Regrowth time is important, and depending on moisture the paddocks should be rested adequately between grazing to allow sufficient regrowth. This could be problematic if the grass becomes rank in these paddocks. It is preferable to graze them according to grass productivity and lose the birdsfoot trefoil over time rather than to allow a productive paddock to deteriorate through misuse.Cicer milkvetch might be a legume species to consider in controlled grazing systems in Vermont; however, it does not have a proven track record in the northeast, and is difficult to establish. Once established, its rhizomatous root system contributes to its longevity and persistence. It is very tolerant of grazing and has rapid regrowth potential, as well as allowing longer season grazing then do alfalfa and many other legumes. A good improved variety to consider is AC Oxley II. The seeds are hard so it’s best to buy scarified seed, and plant shallow on a well prepared seedbed. Expect slow establishment and optimum stand development within a few years. Like birdsfoot trefoil, grazing management is important for cicer milkvetch to persist in a pasture system. You could drill-plant it (shallow) at about 6 to 8 pounds per acre into at least one grass paddock in the fall after the cattle have grazed it very hard (to reduce competition), and observe how it does. Dairy cattle grazing nutrition, Shelburne Farms Pasture Quality studyThere are several reliable methods of measuring and comparing forages for nutrient quality. These laboratory values include acid detergent fiber (ADF), neutral detergent fiber (NDF), crude protein (CP), and, though less reliable, total digestible nutrients (TDN). The measures are generally used for the following purposes:? ADF for predicting energy: ADF less than 35 is optimum? NDF for predicting intake: NDF less than 50 is optimum? CP greater than 19 is optimum? TDN greater than 58 is optimumThe reference forage quality study results from Vermont (2005) utilize these measures to compare the nutritional attributes of pastures under Management-Intensive Grazing, clipped at different times throughout the grazing season. This study illustrates the kind of quality that can be expected from well managed grass-clover grazing paddocks in Vermont. Throughout the grazing season, the legume fraction maintained itself between 15 and 50% of the paddock stand, depending on where and when the plot was clipped. In addition, CP was maintained at above 20% and ADF below 34%. This is high quality feed, and any dairy grazier would be very happy with nutrition like this. ReferenceUniversity of Vermont. 2006. “Pasture and Grazing Management.” Burlington, VT: University of Vermont Extension http://pss.uvm.edu/vtcrops/?Page=pasturegrazing.htmlResourceBosworth, S. 2005. Pasture Quality at Shelburne Farms ? 2005. Burlington, VT: University of Vermont.