A look at Ohio’s small grain grazing

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By David H. Samples

A few issues ago, Mark Sulc shared some thoughts about grazing annual forages between cash grain crops. He referred to the systems being used in Brazil and the successes they were having.

Within some areas of the Midwest, producers are having great success in the use of winter annuals to extend the grazing season and we frequently hear of stocker operations out West using wheat for off-season pastures.

What to try. What can be used? I don’t know of any small grains that haven’t been tried.

Wheat, oats, triticale and rye each have their own growth characteristics, advantages and disadvantages.

When planning to use one of these forages, it is highly recommended that producers study these characteristics to select the best fit.

Of course like all of farming, no two years are alike and weather conditions can make major differences.

Research. Following three years of research trials here in southern Ohio, we were able to gain a much better understanding of how rye might work as a grazing source.

Here is a brief overview of what we learned:

* Cereal rye is the most winter hardy of the small grains and will continue growth at colder temperatures than the others.

* Grazing needs (late fall vs. early spring) can be used to establish seeding dates. Seeding in early to mid-September will yield valuable forages in December and again in early spring.

Later seeding will yield little fall growth.

* Rye will tolerate a wide range of soil fertility conditions. Like all grasses, it will respond well to applications of nitrogen.

* Rye is the first small grain to break dormancy in the spring and can quickly get out of control if not managed. Once stem elongation begins, digestibility and protein levels decline rapidly!

Trials. In our trials, certain varieties were able to produce nearly 2,500 pounds of dry matter per acre in about 80 days (Sept. 20 to Dec. 9).

Crude protein values in these late fall harvests ranged from 25.5 percent to 33.7 percent

Rye seeded in mid-October, stockpiled over the winter and harvested the first of May showed protein levels only in the teens.

High quality. Fiber values showed similar high quality characteristics. Neutral detergent fiber (NDF) levels were consistently in the high 20s to low 30s. That’s highly digestible feed!

And as such, caution must be given to how much animals are allowed to consume.

Excellent gains. Grazing trials, like the one conducted at Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center Southern Branch at Ripley, demonstrated the excellent gains possible with stockers grazing on rye/fescue pastures.

Nearly 2.5 pounds of gain per day over a 46-day period is nothing to sneeze at and the appearance of the steers was very impressive.

Success. If you check around Ohio, you can probably find successful small grain grazing programs in nearly every corner. Is it for everyone? Probably not.

But if you are looking for something to fill the to fill a gap and perhaps extend the productivity of some crop land, you may want to explore this option.

More info. If you are interested in details about using cereal rye, you can check out Agronomy Fact Sheet AGF-026-00 either on the Internet at http://ohioline.ag.ohio-state.edu or at your OSU Extension Office.

You also may consider attending the special extended grazing program being planned in Fairfield County this September.

Have a great summer fair season and keep developing your grazing program.

(The author is an OSU Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent in Jackson County. Questions or comments can be sent in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem OH 44460.)

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