Fall-Established Annuals to Help Meet Forage Needs

Sjoerd Willem Duiker, PhD, CCA and Virginia Ishler, Extension Specialist, PennState Extension

A large portion of the state has been affected by summer drought and reports of low corn silage yields are coming in. Forage availability may therefore become critical for some farmers.

Cool-season annual species may be considered to help meet the nutritional needs of your ruminant animals.

Many dairy farmers are facing forage shortages due to summer drought. At this moment there is still time to plant an annual forage crop, but as fall progresses and temperatures get cooler, the species you can choose from become fewer and fewer. The potential of legumes or forbs to make it through the winter and contribute significantly to spring forage yield has already become questionable, but cereal rye, triticale, wheat, barley, and annual ryegrass can still be considered, depending on where you are in the state.

Cereal rye is the most winter hardy, with triticale and wheat very similar, while barley and annual ryegrass are less winter hardy. This means rye, triticale, and wheat can still be planted in most of the state this month, but annual ryegrass and barley are likely to be successful only in the southern lowland portion of the state. Cereals are typically harvested once when they are in the early to mid-boot stage in the spring. Cereal rye matures the earliest, followed by triticale about a week later, and wheat 2 weeks later.

In the Penn State forage evaluation trial in central Pennsylvania, early-mid boot stage fell on April 28-May 8 for rye, May 14 for annual ryegrass, and May 15-26 for triticale, depending on the variety. Penn State’s Short-Lived Grass and Cover Crop variety testing program can help guide variety selection. It is critical that you establish the species you select as soon as possible to obtain satisfactory results. Since you are planting these for forage, make sure you use a heavy seeding rate (at least 120 lbs/A, or two bu/A for the cereals, and 20 lbs/A for annual ryegrass).

Start with a clean field to minimize weed competition and maximize yields. If you have a manure history, it may not be necessary to do this, but if nitrogen is likely to be limited, apply 30 lbs N/A this fall and 100 lbs N/A at greenup in the spring. Make sure you plant these forages at their proper depth – 1-1.5 inches deep for the cereals, and 0.25-0.5 inches for annual ryegrass.

Single-cut dry matter yields in Penn State forage evaluation trial in the spring ranged from 4.05-6.55 T/A dry matter for triticale and 3.42-5.08 T/A for rye, and 3.19-4.00 T/A for annual ryegrass, while higher yields were possible in multi-cut systems. Crude protein ranged from 9-13%, with higher CP in multi-cut systems. NDFD-30 ranged from 49-60, with higher digestibility for annual ryegrass than the cereals. Small grains harvested for



silage can be successfully stored in Ag-Bags or in trenches. The ideal dry matter for storage is between 30-35%. If they are ensiled below 30% dry matter, then fermentation may be compromised. Small grain silage can make excellent milk cow feed, especially when fed along with corn silage. If the weather does not cooperate in the spring and harvest is delayed, small grain silage can still be a good forage source for dry cows and heifers. Many dairy producers have incorporated small grain silage into their cropping rotation over the years with great success.

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