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Summer grazing gone, producers look to winter annuals

Cheap winter annual varieties could turn expensive if not cold tolerant. Rye, wheat, triticale all options for Arkansas. Know your USDA plant hardiness zone.

With summer’s grazing gone, Arkansas livestock producers are looking to winter annuals to sustain what’s left of their herds.

“Producers needing to provide quick grazing will soon be planting winter annual forages such as annual ryegrass, wheat and cereal rye,” said John Jennings, professor-forages for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

Choosing the right variety could mean the survival of livestock operations stretched hard by this year’s drought. Livestock producers should check the USDA plant hardiness map to see what zone the operation is in; and what varieties might be best suited for that location.

“The lowest price may make some varieties appealing,” Jennings said. “But some of those cheaper varieties don’t have enough cold tolerance for most Arkansas conditions.

“A cheap variety becomes very expensive if it does die in the cold or if it’s stunted by cold weather and produces little forage. In a year like this, it can pay to plant known varieties to ensure forage production.”


Ryegrass can be planted as early as late August with good soil moisture. “Early planted ryegrass can provide grazing in late fall,” Jennings said. Late planted ryegrass -- November -- will not provide significant grazing until late winter -- March -- except in warm winters like 2011-12.”

Wheat is another option. While most varieties are selected for grain production, a growing number of livestock producers plant wheat for grazing. Variety selection for forage is important because some popular wheat varieties for grain production produce very little fall forage growth. Earlier maturing varieties tend to produce more leaf growth for grazing in fall. The University of Arkansas wheat variety testing report has information on relative maturity dates and mature heights.

The report is available here.

Triticale, a cross of wheat and rye “has a growth pattern and yield closer to rye than wheat, and makes a very good forage,” Jennings said. Grazing trials at the Southwest Research and Extension Center in Hope, Ark., has shown good results and other tests show certain varieties have the potential to make a hay or baleage crop by late November to early December, if planted by early September.

Jennings said rye, a rapid-growth option, “provides more fall grazing and earlier spring grazing than wheat.” Come March, rye will take off, “so producers need to be ready to handle the fast growth by grazing, using as hay or as baleage.”

Work done by forage researcher Paul Beck at Hope “has shown that to manage spring rye growth, half the field can be managed for graze-out and the other half can be harvested as baleage.”

Baleage is forage that ferments in bale form when sealed by plastic wrap. Baleage can be harvested earlier than hay since it only has to be dried to 50 percent moisture before wrapping and storing.

For more information on using winter annual forages for grazing, hay, and silage, refer to the following fact sheets:

Baled Silage for Livestock (FSA 3051), Using Cereal Grain Forages and Mixtures With Annual Ryegrass for Grazing (FSA 3064), Using Cereal Grain Forages and Mixtures With Annual Ryegrass for Hay and Silage (FSA 3063), Winter Annual Grasses for Livestock in Arkansas (FSA-3066).


For more information about livestock production, see here

For drought information, see here.

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