Successful double cropping of annual forages requires good planning and timely operations along with some timely moisture. To use this approach this spring, small grains like oats or spring triticale, maybe mixed with field peas or some brassicas like collards or forage rape, need to be planted as soon as possible. Grazing of these plantings can begin six to eight weeks after planting and can last until early to mid-June if stocked and managed properly.
As portions of this spring planting get grazed out, the double crop of a summer annual grass like sudangrass or pearl millet can be planted. With adequate moisture, the summer annual grass will be ready to graze in 45 to 50 days and may last through September.
This double crop forage strategy works even better if winter annual cereals like winter rye, wheat, or triticale were planted last fall for spring forage. They will be ready to graze earlier than any spring planting and like the spring plantings, as portions are grazed out, plant summer annual grasses to begin grazing them by mid-summer.
Another strategy is to plant the summer annual grasses first in mid- to late May. Graze portions of them out in August, then plant oats or turnips or both for late fall and winter grazing.
Of course, adequate moisture or irrigation is needed for these options to produce both double crops. Thus, it is wise to have extra hay or a nearby pasture where animals can be placed and fed temporarily if extra time is needed to grow sufficient forage for grazing.
An extensive description of these annual forage systems, including economics, is available online at beef.unl.edu.
Bruce Anderson is forage specialist and Extension professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.