Harvesting Small Grain Cereals for Hay or Silage

Harvesting Small Grain Cereals for Hay or Silage May 12, 2017

The rye, triticale, and other small grains you planted last fall are starting to grow tall and should be harvested for hay or silage soon. While they may not be as good feed as corn silage or alfalfa hay, they can provide good feed when harvested and fed correctly.

Tonnage and forage quality are affected most by stage of plant maturity at harvest. Plants with 10%-12% crude protein when in the boot stage may only have 7%-8% protein when they reach soft dough.

To time harvest for the best use in your own operation, first determine what livestock
will be fed this forage.  Calves, stockers, replacement heifers, and especially dairy cows need a fairly high quality forage to gain weight as rapidly as desired or produce milk. In this case, harvest hay and silage while plants are in the boot to early heading stage.  Dry cows, though, won’t need such high quality so harvest can be delayed until dough stage to achieve higher yields with still acceptable protein levels.

Think twice, though, about making hay from rye, triticale, or wheat that has formed seed
heads.  These seed heads produce rough awns that can irritate and injure the eyes and mouth parts of livestock.  To avoid problems from awns, either cut hay before seed heads emerge or make silage from the more mature plants to soften and break these awns.

To help you feed the hay or silage safely and efficiently, test it for nitrates, protein, and energy before beginning to feed it. 

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