Barley, oats, triticale or wheat no-tilled into small-grain stubble can extend the fall grazing season, Vance Owens says.

“These small grains offer very good grazing potential,” explains Owens, a South Dakota State University (SDSU) forage agronomist. “One grain doesn't stick out above the others in terms of performance, except that rye and triticale seem to stay a bit greener and more upright a little longer.”

In a two-year trial near Brookings, SD, yield and quality of the four species were very good across a range of planting and harvesting dates, he says.

“There was a lot of dry matter accumulation until the first frost and then the plants started to dry down,” he says.

Protein values stayed around 15%.

“The fiber values were good, too,” Owens says. “Neutral detergent fiber ran about 35-40%, with acid detergent fiber in the low 20% range.”

In 2002 and 2003, researchers planted the small grains on Aug. 1 and 15, and Sept. 1 and 15. A 30-acre field of barley was also planted around Aug. 10 for grazing by weaned calves. In all cases, the crops were seeded into oat stubble that had been harvested as oatlage.

Beginning in mid October of both years, the calves grazed the barley for several weeks. Average daily gains were approximately 1.4-1.5 lbs. both years.

All four species were hand-harvested in the research plots. Averaged across planting dates, yields were: Oct. 15 — 2,200 lbs. of dry matter (DM)/acre; Oct. 31 — 2,700 lbs.; Nov. 15 — 2,800 lbs.; and Dec. 2 — 2,200 lbs.

In 2003, the highest yields averaged across planting dates — 2,000 lbs. of DM/acre — were obtained Oct. 15.

“In 2003, we didn't have as much moisture, with an earlier frost, so yields weren't quite as good,” Owens says.

Seeding the small grains for late-season grazing can work in a number of areas in the Upper Midwest with adequate late-summer rain and if the first frost isn't too early. Plant as early as possible but no later than Aug. 15, Owens recommends.

Early planting is one of the most critical things you can do to maximize production, Owens says. He also suggests planting awn-less varieties of barley.

“We had significant seed-head development, though the animals didn't seem to mind. But if awn development is excessive, you might have some mouth trouble,” he points out.

Owens believes grazing could start earlier than mid-October, especially if the grains are planted in July.

Others participating in the research included SDSU colleagues Dick Pruitt and Sandy Smart, and graduate student April Schultz.

Ann Behling is a Northfield, MN-based freelance writer on forage topics.