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Grazing small grains
Forage Minute

Grazing small grains

Spring pastures

Cattle graze the green spring pastures in southern Deuel County, South Dakota, June 15. 

Now that small grains and cover crops are greening up, this is the time for finalizing your forage grazing plans. Small grains provide ample grazing opportunity. For every 1,000 pounds of forage dry matter production, there is potential beef gains of approximately 100 pounds.

Whether growing small grains or cover crops, grazing will be maximized if livestock producers wait until the plants are 4 to 8 inches tall before starting the grazing process. Then, stock the fields with enough animals to maintain plant heights between 6 and 12 inches. Flash grazing or dividing fields into smaller paddocks may prevent over grazing plants below the 6-inch target plant height.

For those wanting to graze wheat and rye and still harvest grain from the same fields; stop grazing the plants before they reach first hollow stem or jointing development. Grazing beyond the jointing stage may decrease grain yields 1% to 5% each day that grazing continues. This is because the grazing animals may be consuming grain heads in the immature tillers.

Timing of growth stage varies each year and depends on factors such as fall planting date, variety and Spring soil conditions. First hollow stem occurs about a week prior to jointing when the immature head rises in the tiller above the soil surface. The jointing stage can be identified by feeling with your fingers a bump or joint on the tiller stems as you move your fingers up the stem from the soil surface. Generally, you will want to focus our growth stage assessment using the larger primary tillers.

With careful management such as delayed grazing, the cool-season grazing can be extended through mid-June.

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