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Integration of sheep grazing for cover crop termination into market gardens: Agronomic consequences of an ecologically based management strategy

  • Sean C. McKenzie (a1), Hayes B. Goosey (a2), Kevin M. O'Neill (a1) and Fabian D. Menalled (a1)

Abstract

Cover crops are suites of non-marketable plants grown to improve soil tilth and reduce erosion. Despite these agronomic benefits, the use of cover crops is often limited because they do not provide a direct source of revenue for producers. Integrating livestock to graze cover crops could provide both an expeditious method for cover crop termination and an alternative source of revenue. However, there has been little research on the agronomic impacts of grazing for cover crop termination, especially in horticultural market-gardens. We conducted a 3-year study comparing the effects of sheep grazing to terminate a four species cover crop (buckwheat, sweetclover, peas and beets) with those of mowing on soil quality indicators, cover crop termination efficacy, and subsequent cash-crop yields. In addition, we tested the nutritional quality of the cover crop as forage. Compared with mowing, sheep grazing did not affect soil chemistry, temperature or moisture. Our study demonstrates that sheep grazing removed more cover crop biomass than mowing at termination. The assessment of nutritional indices suggests that the four-species cover crop mixture could provide high-quality forage with a potential value of US$144.00–481.80 ha−1 of direct revenue as a grazing lease. Cash-crop yields did not differ between previously grazed and previously mowed plots in the subsequent growing season. We conclude that integrating sheep grazing into market vegetable garden operations could make cover crops more economically viable without having adverse effects on subsequent cash crops.

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Copyright

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is unaltered and is properly cited. The written permission of Cambridge University Press must be obtained for commercial re-use or in order to create a derivative work.

Corresponding author

*Corresponding author: smckenzie1986@gmail.com

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