Winter Annuals: Do they make sense for me?
Winter annuals don’t make sense for every operation, but there is a large percentage of us who should be utilizing them to reduce our hay feeding bill and to increase the quality of forage our animals are grazing during the winter. The great thing about these cool-season annual grasses is that their growth is dictated by temperature, which means we can very specifically select species based on when you need grazing the most. Any of these grasses can be mixed and matched to increase utilization on each acre.
General Timeline for Timing of Grazing (Sept. Planted)
|Spring oats||Cereal rye and triticale||Triticale||Ryegrass|
There are some nuances to each of these grasses that need to be understood so that you are more likely to be successful with them.
If you run out of grass by early November, this is a must. Spring oats are a large seed and need to be drilled between 0.5-1” deep in the soil. Within 45 days of planting, they are ready to graze. Utilize them before the temperatures get down into the teens. A few days of temperatures less than 20 will cause winter kill. For this reason, it’s best to utilize them as much as possible before Christmas. I recommend planting them with something you know will survive the winter, like triticale or ryegrass. Seed 100lbs/A alone or 70lbs/A as part of a mix.
Cereal Rye or Triticale
These are the most cold tolerant of the winter annuals. Both are typically ready to graze mid-winter, with the primary difference between the two being that triticale matures much later than cereal rye- up to 3 weeks later. This leaves the window open for more grazings, since they don’t come back well after heading. Drill 0.5-1” deep. Seed alone at 100lbs/A or as part of a mix at 70lbs/A.
This winter annual is the only grass that can be successfully broadcasted. May get a fall grazing out of it, but unlikely. HUGE mid to late spring yield, comes back even after producing a seedhead. Mixes very well with spring oats or triticale. Use straight at 25lbs/A or as part of a mix at 15lbs/A. If used in a mix with a larger seed, only drill at 0.5” deep.
For these grasses to meet their greatest potential, they need to be drilled into a pasture with no existing competition. This means that any existing grasses or weeds should be managed by disking OR with a nonselective herbicide like glyphosate. Some folks will seed winter annuals into fescue, which tends to be pretty hit or miss. Just keep in mind that anywhere the fescue or existing grass is, the winter annual has the disadvantage. To get the best return on investment, make sure you keep livestock OFF the grasses until they reach 8-10” tall and then remove animals when grasses get down to 3” on average. Legumes and brassicas can be added at a low to moderate rate to increase diversity, protein, palatability and quality.