Cover Crops on Livestock Operations

cover crops livestock operations

The Kerr Center has been promoting cover crops for a good while now – but mostly on the horticulture side. However, cover crops can have an important, and profitable, role in livestock operations as well.

The USDA recently crunched the numbers on livestock operations with cover crops. It turns out that Oklahoma is one of the places with the most room to grow the use of cover crops with livestock.

Many livestock operations grow crops as well, so adding cover crops to their existing rotations can bring in the usual lengthy list of benefits – better water holding, reduced erosion, improved nutrient balance, and more.

However, with livestock in the picture, the cover crops can also be used as additional forage for grazing or haying – which can create a substantial boost for the bottom line.

The USDA report found that, nationwide, about 14% of livestock operations with cropland are using cover crops. The figure is more than double for feedlots (27%) – and higher still for dairies (33%). Stocker/backgrounding operations are lower (17%), and cow-calf operations use cover crops the least (11%).

In Oklahoma, there’s a big divide between east and west. In the east, feedlots and dairies are using cover crops at higher rates than the national average – 37% for dairies, and nearly half of feedlots. Out west, the numbers drop to 14% for both.

On stocker and cow-calf operations, eastern and western Oklahoma look more similar, and lower than the national average: cover crops are in use on 12 to 15% of stocker/backgrounding operations, and just 8% of cow-calf outfits.

With Oklahoma having both a relatively low cover crop adoption rate and a relatively high cattle density, the USDA report says nearly every county in the state has either “intermediate” or “high” potential for increasing the use of cover crops on livestock operations.

The full report is available here.

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