Small Grain Hay/Silage

Small Grain Hay/Silage

Harvesting Small Grain Cereals for Hay or Silage

April 30, 2015

The rye, triticale, and other small grains you planted last fall soon should be ready for harvest as silage. Small grain cereals, while not as good as corn silage or alfalfa hay, can provide useful feed when harvested and fed correctly.

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

In order to time harvest for the best use in your operation, first determine what livestock you will feed with it.  Calves, stockers, and replacement heifers need a fairly high quality forage to gain weight as rapidly as desired.  For this group hay and silage needs to be harvested while plants are in the boot or early heading stage.  Dry cows, though, won't need such high quality so harvest can be delayed until dough stage to achieve higher yields and 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. Before feeding, test hay or silage for nitrates, portein and energy.  This will help you feed more safely and efficiently.

Bruce Anderson
Extension Forage Specialist


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