Drought conditions have many producers struggling to harvest enough forages to feed their livestock. Alternative crops may be part of the solution. Planting annual crops is a common management strategy to increase forage yields. Planting winter wheat in early to mid-summer mixed with field peas is one option to supplement forage harvest. Demonstration plots have shown winter wheat and field peas planted in the summer can yield between 1.5-3 tons per acre during fall harvest with similar yields again the following summer. These yields will most likely be higher than second or third cutting hay under drought conditions with similar nutritive value.
Winter wheat planted during the summer months will not head out until undergoing vernalization during the winter months. Field peas planted with the winter wheat will not regrow after fall cutting but greatly enhance quality of the forage harvested the first year.
Additionally, field peas will grow a root structure that will add organic matter and nitrogen to the soil. The winter wheat will regrow the following spring after harvesting for forage this fall. Planting winter wheat mid-summer is not generally recommended for grain production due to potential disease and insect problems. Harvest in the fall should occur approximately at the time of normal planting to allow adequate regrowth and root reserve build up.
Harvesting the combination of winter wheat and field peas as dry hay during the fall can be difficult to achieve adequate curing. This crop is better suited to being harvested and stored as silage or baleage. While feed should be analyzed for nutrient content, usually this crop should be fed to animals with higher nutrient requirements such as dairy cows and goats in lactation or beef cows, sheep and meat goats following parturition and for rebreeding. Young stock will also grow and perform quite well on this forage.
Sheep and goat producers need to be aware of the challenges of feeding fermented crops. Small ruminants do not consume nearly the volume of feed as do cattle. Consequently, large numbers of either sheep or goats are required to consume enough of the fermented feeds to stay ahead of aerobic deterioration both in the feed bunk and storage structure. As fermented feeds are exposed to oxygen, deterioration of the feedstuffs begins by microorganisms that proliferate in these conditions. These organisms degrade feed quality as they create heat within the feedstuff as energy is lost to the atmosphere and reduces palatability.
Summer seeding winter wheat and field peas can provide a high quality feed to livestock operations with potential to improve yields during drought conditions. For more information on summer planting of a winter cereal grain in combination with a legume annual crop to supplement forage harvest, contact Frank Wardynski, Ruminant Educator, Michigan State University (MSU) Extension.