This article was written by Jim Krantz, former SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist.
Small grain stubble has provided cattlemen with a fall grazing alternative, however this roughage source has dwindled for years since the “corn-soybean rotation” replaced many of those small grain acres. The resurgence of small grain plantings may at the same time provide producers with the means OF once again utilize grain stubble for fall grazing needs.
Oats stubble seems to be the environment most often considered for this purpose. Wheat, triticale, rye or even another seeding of oats qualify as alternative crops for this need. It’s recommended to no-till these crops into the stubble by August 15 immediately after harvest. Sometimes, no actual planting is performed. Light-weight seeds that passed through the combine with the chaff or straw often are left to grow and produce forage if moisture is available after harvest. In other cases, producers lightly disk the harvested grain field burying not only those light-weight seeds but any that may have shattered throughout the field prior to, or during harvesting.
Dr. Vance Owens, former SDSU Forage Specialist, completed some research in 2002 and 2003 to determine the forage potential of annual cereal grains seeded after a small grain harvest. . He used all four grains listed above and found no real advantage for any of them except that the rye and triticale remained greener and more upright longer. Dry matter yields in 2002 ranged from about 2200 pounds on October 15 to roughly 2800 pounds on November 15. The highest yield recorded the second year of the study was on October 15 when 2000 pounds of dry matter/acre was noted. Moisture levels along with the date of the first killing frost had the greatest impact on yield.
Feed value was found to be very acceptable with protein content around 15 percent while fiber values were very acceptable as well.
Seeding cover crops into small grain stubble is another alternative as cattlemen look for ways to extend the grazing season. Small grains can be considered cover crops themselves. Most recently however, forage brassicas such as radishes, turnips, rape and other CROP mixtures are also commonly included in this category.
Planting these crops into harvested small grain fields in late July and early August will provide cattlemen with fall grazing opportunities by late October. In some cases, producers reverse this scenario and plant cover crops in the spring to provide mid-summer grazing when some cool season grasses disappear, or begin to mature, diminishing its feeding value. In this practice, these acres can be planted to winter wheat late summer or early fall when the forage is gone.
Brassicas are an excellent forage source for cattle as they commonly produce between 1.5 to 3 tons of dry matter/acre with protein ranging from 15% TO 25%. In addition, they are fast growing and very economical from an input perspective. As an added bonus cover crops have proved beneficial to next year’s crop as well.
As cattlemen look for alternative grazing sources for lost grazing acres or to reduce the need for harvested feed, cover crops may meet that need. With the increasing use of small grains in crop rotations, the resulting post-harvest stubble provides a perfect environment for planting these cover crops which quickly produce grazing forage to extend the grazing season.