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Extension Education: Small Grains Have Potential for Dual Purpose Use in Wyoming

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Small grains such as wheat, rye and triticale are primarily used as grain crops but can also be used as annual forages. They are well adapted throughout the United States and southern Canada. Although as forages wheat, rye and triticale are primarily grown as winter pasture, they can be used as silage or hay crops. 

Additionally, small grains, especially triticale and rye, are often used as cover crops or in companion seedings with legumes, particularly alfalfa. However, in Wyoming conditions, major limitations for growing small grains are lack of appropriate varieties and limited early fall and winter growth.

A recent study by the researchers at the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Wyoming shows promise for dual purpose use of small grains. The study was conducted beginning in fall 2008 at the James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center near Lingle under irrigation and continued for three years. Two experimental lines along with a standard variety were used from each species. The control varieties were “Jagalene” for wheat, “Winter rye” for rye and “Presto” for triticale. The small grains were seeded into two adjacent fields representing forage-only use and dual purpose forage use and grain use. Harvesting for forage started at the same time for both fields but stopped for forage- and grain-use fields at first hollow stem stage.

Variation was observed in forage production across seasons. For example, fall forage production among small grain species was similar in 2008-09. However, it was different in 2010-11. 

Average forage dry matter (DM) yields in fall 2008 were 474 pounds per acre for rye, 711 pounds per acre for triticale and 654 pounds per acre for wheat. Average fall forage production of rye, at 652 pounds per acre, and triticale, at 626 pounds per acre, was significantly greater than wheat, which only showed 419 pounds per acre, in the fall of 2011. 

Forage DM yields in the fall of 2008-09 and 2010-11 growing seasons were different among small grain lines or varieties. 

Experimental lines performed similar to or, in some cases, better than controls. Differences were also observed for grain yield among the lines. For example wheat showed 2,002 to 3,837 pounds per acre, rye yielded 2,352 to 3,237 pounds per acre, and triticale resulted in 2,089 to 2,854 pounds per acre. 

The controls had better grain yield than experimental lines. However, line NF95134A, a wheat variety, Maton II, a rye line, and NF96210, triticale, among all lines had the greatest grain yield potential. Similar results were also obtained in 2009–10 and 2010–11 growing seasons. 

The study shows differences between species and lines and provides useful information for Wyoming conditions. An economic analysis is being conducted to see the usefulness of using small grains for dual purpose. I will update the results in upcoming articles.

Anowar Islam is an assistant professor and the University of Wyoming Extension Forage Agroecologist in the Department of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He can be reached at 307-766-4151 or

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