Winter annuals could offer quality winter grazing to midwest

Staff report

COLUMBIA, Missouri: The expense associated with producing, making and feeding hay account for nearly 50% of the total cost to produce beef and 30% of the cost to produce milk in the lower Midwest.

Missouri graziers have responded to the high cost of feeding hay by using stockpiled Fescue. Research in Missouri has shown that stockpiled fescue combined with Management-intensive Grazing can largely eliminate the feeding of hay in most years.

While stockpiled fescue is a more economical feed source than hay, it does have some disadvantages. One disadvantage is that it generally cannot supply enough protein or energy to sustain rapidly growing livestock.

Another problem is that the quality of the stockpiled fescue declines throughout the fall and winter.

Finally, much of the stockpiled Tall fescue is infected with an endophyte, which leads to reduced gains, lower milk production and/or animal health problems.

Another alternative to both hay and stockpiled fescue is the use of winter annuals such as wheat, rye and annual ryegrass. These annuals are widely used in regions immediately adjacent to the lower Midwest but have not generally been considered in the region.

These annuals have several advantages. First, the forage quality is higher and lactating cows and/or growing stock could perform satisfactorily on these pastures with little or no supplementation.

In addition, these winter annuals could be used as ground cover on tilled farms to reduce soil erosion, improve soil organic matter and reduce sedimentation of streams.

A problem with winter annuals is that they are highly dependent upon fall rainfall for subsequent winter grazing potential. Where adequate fall rains occur, the annuals can produce as much as two tons of dry matter for winter use.

Of the three annuals, research on stockpiled winter annuals at three Missouri research stations found that cereal rye produces the most forage in the December to mid-March period.

In the 1999 - 2000 growing season at the Linneus Forage Research Station where there was adequate fall rainfall, yields for rye in mid-December where 3404 lbs of dry matter versus 1346 for the leading annual ryegrass and 1366 for wheat.

Yields at Columbia in the same year were virtually identical.

Cereal rye maintained its yield advantage over wheat and annual ryegrass through mid-March. However, after mid-March the cereal rye matured much earlier in the spring than did the wheat or annual ryegrass.

The Missouri researchers concluded that for late-March calving dairy cows, cereal rye was probably not the best choice due to its early maturity.

In Argentina, cereal rye is used to winter-finish grassfed beeves and is a critical component in their year-round beef production system.

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