Grazing winter small grains can be an easy and profitable way to start grazing early in the season, but requires proper management of the crop and livestock for success.
Rye, triticale or wheat planted last fall is greening up, will soon be growing rapidly and be ready to graze in most areas.
These small grain pastures are an extremely important resource this spring. Not only will they relieve you from feeding hay and get your animals onto clean green grass, they also will help you wait longer before turning onto your other pastures, giving those pastures more time to recover from winter stresses.
To maximize grazing from small grain pastures, wait until grass is 4 to 8 inches tall before starting to graze. Then stock heavily enough to maintain plant height between 6 and 12 inches. To accomplish this, either adjust the number of animals according to grass growth or sub-divide the pasture into paddocks and graze rotationally. Grass stands, soils, fertility, and moisture all will affect stocking rate, so adjust stock numbers for your conditions. With careful management, you can have good grazing all the way to early June.
One concern when grazing small grain pasture is animal death from grass tetany. Tetany is more common in lactating cows than in dry cows or young stock. Reduce tetany by feeding magnesium oxide supplements mixed with salt, molasses, or grain. Monitor consumption carefully and adjust the mixture so cattle consume about one-quarter pound of magnesium oxide per cow each week.
Small grain pastures can be convenient and profitable. Just use good management to optimize production and prevent livestock losses.