Alternative Cropping Strategies

There are several strategies to consider for implementing alternative forages on dairy operations in Pennsylvania.
Alternative Cropping Strategies - Articles


There are a variety of alternative forages that can be harvested and fed to dairy animals to increase cash flow by decreasing the amount of purchased feed. There are many other benefits to utilizing these forages such as increasing soil quality, effective utilization of nutrients, and maximizing crop production per acre.

Example Cropping Calendar

If you are considering incorporating alternative forages into your cropping/ feeding system, begin by setting goals for the entire cropping plan. There isn't a perfect strategy that will work on every type of farm so knowing what the end goals are will help you make decisions throughout the year as you assess and evaluate the conditions.

As you consider alternative cropping strategies, answer the following questions:

  1. Do you have time to plant and harvest these forages?
  2. Do you have the proper equipment?
  3. Will your soil type and climate support the types of forages and rotations?
  4. Will you need to increase the amount of fertilizer or manure applied?
  5. Do you have the storage capabilities for additional feeds?
  6. What animals will the forages be fed to and how will it be fed?

Design a plan considering all of these questions and be prepared to alter the plan as weather and other conditions change.

Pros and Cons on a dairy system


  • Potential savings on purchased feed costs ranging from five-six figures in one year
  • Increased feed inventory to avoid shortages during poor crop conditions
  • Limit soil erosion and improve soil water holding capacity
  • Enhance nutrient management


  • Increased costs associated with seed, fertilizer, custom hire, alternative feed storage, and labor
  • Increased management on timeliness of planting and harvesting of alternative crops

Economic Planning of Whole Farm System

The Penn State Extension Dairy Team has developed an integrated cash flow and crop inventory planning spreadsheet that can help evaluate whether or not alternative cropping strategies can be utilized on your operation. For more information, contact the Penn State Extension Dairy Team at 888-373-7232.