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Many options available for growing warm season, cool season annual forages

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

“There are a good number of different species and varieties of annual forages available,” said University of Nebraska-Lincoln Range and Forage Systems Specialist Jerry Volesky.

Volesky outlined the different types of annual forages, as well as growing tips and alternative strategies.

I think it’s very important that we carefully choose the species that we know have been proven to be used in our area or that fit our specific needs and soil conditions,” he continued.

Cool season

The first major category of annual plants is cool season annuals, which are typically spring seeded.

“This group includes things like oats, spring triticale, spring barley, field peas, several other legumes and Italian or annual ryegrass,” said Volesky.

He noted that he is often asked about the practicality of planting winter wheat, winter rye and winter triticale in the spring.

“Basically this is because of the lack of availability of other, more commonly spring-seeded forages,” Volesky explained.

He continued, “Generally, those winter annuals will grow when spring planted, but typically the production from them is rather minimal because, in most cases, they aren’t able to go through the fertilization process.”

Planting cool

“The general planting date for the cool season annuals is mid-March to about mid-April,” explained Volesky. “We like to see those soil temperatures at a minimum of 43 degrees.”

While the forages can be planted later, he noted that producers will typically see less production.

Growers are encouraged to contact their local seed supplier or Extension office to determine the specific seeding rates that should be used.

“For fertilization, typically, we do, of course, like to see soil tests for a more detailed, exact measurement of what those nutrient needs might be,” commented Volesky.

Typically, approximately 50 to 75 pounds of nitrogen per acre is applied for irrigated small grains or for higher rainfall areas.

Volesky noted, “As in all cases, when we’re trying to grow a good crop, some of the basic things as far as the field preparation, drill calibration and planting depth are all very important.”

According to Volesky, the forage quality of different small grains can be fairly good.

“Of course, the key factor in forage quality is the stage of maturity of that plant,” he said.

“In terms of smalls grains that are grazed during the spring, we typically start grazing when they reach a height of about five to six inches, and we would expect very high protein and high digestibility levels at that stage of growth,” he continued.

Warm season

Another group of annual forages used commonly are the warm season annuals, which are typically late spring or early summer planted.

“Warm season annuals include the millets, sorghum/sudangrass hybrids, straight forage sorghum, sudangrass, crabgrass, teff and corn,” said Volesky. “Several legumes are out there that are ideally suited for the warmer parts of the summer, too.”

Warm season annuals are typically planted in mid-May to August, he explained.

“We like to see those soil temperatures at least about 60 degrees. They do like those warm soils and warm growing conditions,” continued Volesky.

The fertilization rate for irrigated acres is typically about 40 to 80 pounds of nitrogen per acre.

According to Volesky, warm season annuals can have relatively prolific forage production.

“The range of dry matter yields for range from 2.6 to 5.3 tons per acre, with taller growing things like the sudangrass averaging in the high range,” he continued.

Other times

“The other time of planting that can be important for some of the annuals is late-summer seeding, where we’re specifically thinking about fall and winter forage,” said Volesky.

Forages that are typically planted in the spring, such as oats, barley, spring triticale and wheat, can also be planted mid- to late-summer.

“Things like field peas, turnips or other brassicas are often included in these mixtures,” he noted.

In general, the planting date is mid-July through August and may extend into early September in some instances.

“We do have to keep in mind that, with those later planting dates, we’re probably going to be looking at yield reductions,” continued Volesky.

He concluded, “In some cases with winter wheat, rye and triticale, we can plant in September. In that situation, we’re mostly thinking about forage for the following spring.”

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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