Photo credit: Rachel Milliron
Grazing both cool season and warm season annuals can be an effective way to extend the grazing season on a livestock operation and ensure that animals have access to the quality of forages needed for their stage of production. Warm season annuals can be an excellent way to mitigate the summer slump and provide additional forages during a time of the year when cool season perennial pasture growth is lagging. These forages, when managed correctly, can provide numerous grazing events into the fall. More information on mitigating the summer slump through the use of summer annuals.
Cool season annuals – such wheat, rye, ryegrass, and oats – can provide extended grazing into the fall when permanent pastures run out of forage and stop growing. These small grains should be managed differently than if they were planted for grain and it is important to remember that the earlier in the fall they are planted, the greater the potential for yield. Small grains work well when following corn silage harvest and if they will be utilized as forage, they should be planted at a greater seeding rate than if planted for grain.
Overseeding cool season annuals into established pastures when land or fencing around crop fields is limited has been shown to have success in extending the grazing season. Oats and ryegrass have been successful at being established in permanent pastures, with a few key management points. Pastures should be grazed to less than 3” so that a no-till drill can easily penetrate the soil to the desired depth, and the established forages will be set back enough to allow for decreased competition with the newly seeded forages. This is typically not recommended with a stand-alone perennial pasture, as it has been shown that the greater the residual height in the fall after the last grazing, the earlier spring regrowth; however, in this instance, it is important to graze the pastures lower so that the establishment of the annuals can occur.
Oats should be seeded at a rate of 60-80 lb per acre and ryegrass should be seeded at 30-40 lb per acre. Nitrogen application will help the annual forages to boost their fall growth. If not overgrazed, oats can be grazed more than once in the fall but will winter kill. However, annual ryegrass will come back in the spring when the established forages green up and could provide a cumulative effect for the overall forage availability. Forage oats will not provide as prolonged of a grazing season as ryegrass, however they will be much less in cost per acre.
When attempting to extend the grazing season, annual grasses can be an excellent addition to a livestock operation!