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Annual crops can provide additional grazing or stored forages when needed

Utilizing Annual crops as feedstuffs for livestock is a common practice, and in today’s environment of higher forage and pasture costs, it really makes sense.  Many and maybe most livestock production systems today involve some sort of farming aspect to the operation.  Yes, producing hay is considered farming in some circles but that’s not the point of this blog.  In sustainable ranching practices, having the forage resource available and not having to purchase significant amounts of additional forages or supplements is a key indicator of profitability.

 "Annual forages are an economical source of protein and energy for producers whether they plan to graze, hay or ensile it.  In the future, the rancher who can capture the cheapest source of protein will be successful." This quote was from Lee Manske, (North Dakota State Univ. Extension Service) in an article written for Beef Magazine in 1998.  What he said then is definitely true today.  The main point is that many annual forage crops can produce a large amount of forage (2-5+ tons per acre), making up a deficit in the hay pile.  However, they need to consider timing of use, adaptability of annual crops for intended harvest method such as haying, grazing or silage or suitability for dry land vs. irrigated production etc... 

These forages may be grazed, harvested as hay, ensiled, or stockpiled for fall and winter grazing.  Common crops used in this practice are small grains (oats, rye, barely, triticale, and wheat); many which can be planted in the fall of the year, then grazed through the winter or early the following spring.  In Canada and some of the Northern plains states, a very popular practice is swath grazing where cereal grain forages are harvested and allowed to be grazed in swaths or windrows in late fall and winter..  Other crops that would be considered more “summer” annuals would include forage sorghums, sudan grasses and millet varieties.  Before planting these types of crops, have a goal in place of just how the crop will be utilized.  Many management implications take place that can better improve the value and yield of these forages or prevent potential drawbacks that may be associated with annual forages (potential toxicity issues often associated with weather events).

Today, some newer crops have been successfully used.  One such crop is Teff grass, an annual grass from North Africa that’s related to Sand Lovegrass, a common grass in the Nebraska Sandhills.  Teff has a nutrient profile similar to Timothy.  A study from Northwest Nebraska reported that Teff grown in a dryland situation yielded more than 2 tons per acre of forage and had better than a 2:1 return per acre in cost of establishment and tonnage yield.

Forage Turnips have become somewhat popular or familiar too.  Aerial seeding into standing cornfields in mid to late summer can result in a fall crop that’s grazed to improve the overall quality of diet when cattle graze cornstalks.  Establishment of turnips in corn is tricky but has been successful.  Dry conditions and the corn canopy can result in poor seed germination.  More success may be seen in corn fields under center pivot irrigation or in seed corn fields where the male inbred rows have been chopped or removed. .  Last summer, I had a conversation with a loyal user of CRYSTALYX® that told me he had sown several cornfields with turnips; so he wanted to use a CRYSTALYX® mineral product such as Crystal-Phos® as his mineral delivery once grazing cornstalks and turnips.  Good choice!

Many annual forages are excellent sources of protein, energy and dry matter overall.  They are however not complete nutrition and a good mineral vitamin program still needs to be in place...  As mentioned above, some drawbacks can occur with annual forage crops.  Small grain crops can come with the risk of grass tetany or magnesium deficiency with lactating cows, bloat with stocker animals, or the potential to accumulate high level of nitrates when drought stressed.  Extra management and use of supplements can ward off many of these drawbacks.

In Addition to the Annuals, Manage the Forage You Have

Last week we discussed not grazing cool season or native pastures too early.  In many cases, once the cool season grasses are growing rapidly they can easily get ahead of the cattle and decrease in quality.  If practical, this rapidly growing grass could be harvested early for high quality hay and help keep cool season pastures in a more vegetative state.

In some areas, CRP acres that are expiring or being opened for grazing in drought areas can be utilized for a short period in spring.  These grasses have a tremendous amount of leaf litter and coarse stem.  A type of Mob grazing or “flog grazing” can be used that incorporates high stock density to trample the litter and open the soil or to provide “hoof action” for new seedlings and tillers.  This practice would apply for about 7-10 days, which is that many fewer days off of other pastures or hay feeding, and it improves the health and production of the grass for a later date in the grazing season.

Many options are available to use annual forages in livestock production systems.  For more information, contact your local extension service.  Other good resources for information include crop production services and local feed seed and chemical dealerships.  Don’t forget to reconsider your supplement programs either.  Supplemental minerals, or their profile, may become more important consideration depending upon the annual forages used and when they are harvested.  Contact your CRYSTALYX® dealer or www.crystalyx.com for more information.