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Alternative Fall - Winter Grazing Species.pdf
Alternative Fall and Winter Grazing Species
by Ed Ballard, Extension Specialist, Animal Systems/ Retired

Many livestock producers often think of annual forage crops as supplemental or emergency crops. Although high quality perennial forage should be the base forage for livestock producers, annual forages can play an important niche role in a forage system by providing forages in the form of hay, silage, or grazing. When supplemental forages are needed, winter injury impairs forage crop stands, drought decreases forage crop yields, or producers are interested in extending the growing/ grazing season to reduce production cost, annual forage crops should be considered.

Other considerations for utilizing annual forages might include:

  1. When transitioning from endophyte-infected tall fescue to an improved forage in the pasture.
  2. As intervening forage between a previous alfalfa crop and a new seeding to eliminate concern of auto toxicity.
  3. As a follow up forage crop to wheat or a winter killed or poor hay stand after the first cutting of hay is removed.
  4. In a feedlot that is not utilized during the summer.
  5. In winter hay-feeding areas damaged by daily high concentrations of livestock.
  6. Following silage fields as a winter cover crop for erosion control and possibly extend grazing seasons.

The selection and management of annual forage crops require special considerations, and most require additional management Summer-annual grasses provide excellent forage during the summer. Small grains and brassicas can ease fall or spring shortages when grazing is possible. Brassica crops such as rape, kale, and turnips make good late fall and winter pasture, but require advanced planning in order to have a sufficient growing season. Winter rye, spring oats or wheat is the most commonly used cover crops in Illinois.

Table 1. Forage yield of sixteen winter annual forages harvested over four winter dates at three locations in Missouri.

How would a producer maximize total forage yields?

Seeding a brassicas crop along with a spring cereal and winter cereal in the fall provides the advantage of both fall and spring forage. Spring oats or spring barley produce the highest forage yield in the fall. Including a brassicas crop like turnips help to increase both the quality and quantity. Then a winter cereal crop like rye, wheat or triticale will be available for late winter and early spring grazing.


Turnips grow fast and can be grazed as early as 70 days after planting. They reach near maximum production levels in 80 to 90 days. Turnips can be planted anytime from when soil temperatures reach 50? F or until 70 days before a killing frost.

Brassicas can be aerial seeded, no-tilled into a sod or conventional seeded. Clean tilled seedings work best, but all methods can be effective. Seeding rates will vary from 2 to 4 pounds per acre. Seed placement should be no more than 0.5 inches deep.

Fertilizer requirements are vary similar to small grains crops. Apply between 60 to 80 lbs/acre of nitrogen. Phosphorus and potassium should be applied similar to a small grain crop like wheat.

Herbicides. Check herbicide applied on previous crop, especially if seeding into standing crops, make sure of the time line from herbicide application until another crop can be planted, little data available on turnips (so if can plant spring oats, then it would be safe to plant turnips) also check herbicide to see if crop residue is safe to graze after harvest.

Grazing can begin when the forage is about 8 to 10 inches tall. The brassicas should be grazed for a short time period and the livestock removed when grazed down to about 4 inches in height, and the livestock removed to allow the turnips to regrow.

Small Grains For Grazing Forage

Wheat, oats, barley triticale, and rye may be used as forage crops. Wheat and rye have a long reputation for furnishing late fall, winter and early spring grazing, when seeded in early fall. The small grains have similar nutritive values when harvested or grazed at equivalent maturities.

Winter rye is the most winter hardy of the small grains. Quick growth in spring makes it the most productive of the small grains for late winter and spring grazing. Rye varieties developed for grazing include Aroostock, Musketeer, Dacold, and Winterking.

Conventional seeding, no-till or aerial can establish cereal grains. Recommend seeding rates vary depending on establishment method and seeding combinations. Drilling into tilled soil will require 60-110 pounds of seed per acre. When no-tilling into an existing sod, rates should range between 90-120 pounds per acre. When broadcasting or seeding by air, rates as high as 150 pounds per acre may be needed. When interseeding cereal rye with turnips and spring oats a common seeding rate is 90 pounds per acre.

Seeding date. Seeding date will have a major impact on when rye can be grazed. If the goal is to graze in late fall seeding should be completed by late August. With adequate moisture, rye will grow until air temperatures drops to 39? F. In fall begin grazing when 5 to 6 inches of growth is available. Remove livestock when 3 inches of growth remain, to maintain sufficient leaf area for continued growth and recovery.


As an alternative to the small grain cereals crops some producers have been planting either annual ryegrass or Italian ryegrass in the fall for late fall, early winter and early spring grazing. Rye grass is easier to manage, has a higher feed quality, less management problems in the spring compared to cereal rye, and can make great regrowth after initial grazing.

Rye grass can be easily established into standing corn or in cornfield after corn is harvested or soybeans; it can also be no tilled into old alfalfa fields or into pasture sod.

Winter hardiness can be a problem for some rye grass varieties if you want to graze them the following spring. Italian varieties survive better than annual varieties over the winter.

Seeding rates will vary according to method and combination of seedlings. Seeding rates will vary from 8 to 10 pounds per acre to 30 to 40 pounds per acre. When planted in combination in standing crops 8 to 10 pounds per acre is recommended, when planted as a cover crop, 15-20 pounds per acre will be sufficient, or when planted as a grazing crop 30 to 40 pounds per acre is recommended.


Ed Ballard, 217-774-4267,
Date: 8/13/02

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