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Nebraska Ag News Headlines
Small Grain Harvest Options
Nebraska Ag Connection - 05/24/2023

Despite a cool start to the season, many small grains are maturing fast and nearing harvest windows. Are you ready to make the most out of these forage options?

Grazing of spring forages should begin soon if not already occurring. Ideally we want a plant height of 6-8 inches before starting. At this point, plant growth will occur rapidly, so grazing to maintain a vegetative state and stimulate new tiller formation is critical. To this goal, aim to keep growth between 6-12 inches when grazing. Initial stocking will be lighter, but as plants begin to grow rapidly, numbers need to be adjusted upward to match forage availability. And remember, new lush growth like small cereals can lead to grass tetany issues, especially in lactating cattle. So, if you haven’t already switched to a high magnesium mineral, do so now.

Producers seeking hay should consider the animal being fed and feeding method before harvesting. For young growing cattle, small grain hay should be cut in the boot stage or as soon as possible following heading to ensure higher protein and energy content. Mature cow owners and feedlot managers may consider delaying their forage harvest until the hard dough development stage to increase forage quantity; since these cattle can utilize lower quality forage than younger beef animals. Small grains with awns like rye, triticale, and wheat can be a concern at later maturities. Grinding the hay, feeding in ration with additional moisture, or using an awnless (beardless) variety can reduce this risk.

If you harvest for hay or silage, delaying cutting can mean higher productivity. Nebraska studies have shown an 8 ton per acre increase between harvest at boot stage and soft dough on irrigated fields of small cereal grains. The trade-off for delaying forage harvest was an 8% drop in crude protein content. Finding the balance between quantity and quality is something forage producers know well, however rapid maturation of cereal crops makes getting the right timing even more important. Another downside to delayed small grain forage harvest is shortening the growing season for double-crop annual forages planting such as corn or sudangrass for fall silage.


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