It's the middle of the summer, and I'm writing about winter pasture already! Many of you might be thinking I've lost my mind well, maybe I have, but it has nothing to do with this subject matter.
Planting season for winter pasture is rapidly approaching, and, after the lack of rainfall in our geographic region last fall and winter, there will be less cereal rye and wheat seed available this year. Therefore, if you have not located a source of seed for winter pasture, you'd better start now and reserve your needs as soon as possible. For those who have traditionally used cereal rye, you may be forced to consider other options this season. If you are reading this article and know where rye seed is available, I would appreciate you telling me I've had several inquiries already this summer that have not been successfully remedied.
So, what are some other options? Of course, the soft and hard red winter wheat varieties are options. Fall forage production will not usually be as great as that of rye, but there are varieties that perform better in the fall than others. Wheat tends to have a longer spring growing season than rye. Also, realize that most wheat varieties are not as tolerant to low pH as cereal rye. If you have not soil tested and have not planted a wheat variety in recent years, this would be a great time to have a soil test run in order to select the proper winter pasture variety for your fields.
Triticale, a hybrid cross of wheat and rye, also is a good option. As a rule, its fall forage production is somewhat in between that of rye and wheat, as is its maturity. Seed availability may be a problem within our region, since it is not traditionally used as often as wheat and rye. But, it can usually be located in the High Plains region of Texas.
Perennial and annual ryegrass also can work well. Ryegrass, although usually considered when overseeding bermudagrass pastures, can be planted in cropland like the cereal grains. However, once ryegrass is established in a crop field, you have, for all practical purposes, forever eliminated it from grain production (except for your own use in a forage/pasture situation). This is an extremely important consideration if you are in the middle of a significant grain producing area your popularity with your neighbors could decrease dramatically! That being said, ryegrass has the longest growing season of the forages mentioned above, with grazing lasting until June in most years. The perennial varieties are more cold-tolerant than the annuals.
One might also consider establishing a cool-season perennial, such as fescue. The new novel endophyte varieties are proving to be very resilient in most of our region, and the summer-dormant fescues show promise for the western portions of the area, where annual rainfall is less than 30 inches. Most of the fields planted to fescue in the last few years, which have been droughty during most of the winter and summer growing seasons, have survived and performed very well. The novel fescues in particular have several benefits relative to the cool-season annuals. First, once established, there are no annual establishment costs field preparations, planting or seed. Second, there is the possibility of earlier fall forage production in which grazing could be initiated with the early fall rainfall. Third, there are no toxic effects on livestock, which are traditionally associated with the fescues commonly found in our area because they are infected with a toxic endophyte. Stand failures are most likely to occur when fescue is planted too early in the fall don't dust it in, but wait until moisture conditions are right and the high temperatures have subsided.
Stand failures also are likely to occur when there is a significant amount of competition from annual grasses such as ryegrass, cheatgrass, rescue grass or other bromes. If such is the case, put your plans for establishment to fescue on hold for another year, and spray the fields with glyphosate this coming spring before the annuals make seed. Spray again next fall prior to planting, but after early fall field preparations. The one drawback of fescue establishment is that there is no fall production and only moderate spring grazing available for livestock in the establishment year, which needs to be factored into the equation if you are dependent on winter forage production for your livestock program.
As you can see, there is reason to be contemplating this winter's pasture right now during the middle of the summer. Besides, thinking about winter might momentarily moderate the heat of summer, at least in our minds. For more information about forage yields of cereal grains and ryegrass in Noble Research Institute variety tests, see "2003-2004 Forage Yields from Rye, Wheat, Triticale, Oat and Barley Varieties & Strains" or "2003 Forage Yields from Ryegrass Varieties and Strains." Or, contact us at (580) 224-6500 and we'll send you a copy.