Producers can achieve profitable results from grazing winter forages if they match available small grains to their management strategy, according to a Texas Cooperative Extension agronomist.

“There are several types of small grains that can provide cool-season forage for grazing. Among these are wheat, triticale, rye, oats and barley,” said Calvin Trostle, Extension agronomist based at Lubbock. “Wheat is the obvious choice for a dual-purpose grazing and a grain crop. Rye and barley may produce more fall forage, but they are subject to winterkill. Ryes and some triticales can offer more forage through the winter.”

Trostle was one of seven featured speakers at the recent Southern Mesa Agriculture Conference here. More than 150 producers attended the conference for updates on cotton, grain sorghum and peanut production, insect and weed control options, brush control, and cattle and forages.

“Barley tolerates saline soils, can be planted in August and will provide good fall grazing. Rye is a cold tolerant, early-maturing forage that will grow in poor soil,” Trostle said. “Early indications are that some triticales can produce the most forage, but the quality may be lower than wheat.”

Regardless which forage they choose, producers should evaluate seed quality carefully when making variety selections — especially where fall forage production is desired.

“With wheat, seed quality is the best investment you can make. We want at least 85 percent germination, and a test weight of 58 pounds per bushel,” Trostle said. “If germination or test weight is questionable, you should consider planting treated seed at higher-than-normal seeding rates when soil conditions are optimal.

“For forage production, we recommend a seeding rate of 45 to 70 pounds per acre for dryland wheat and 100 to 120 pounds per acre for irrigated wheat. Early to mid-September is ideal time to plant wheat for grazing on the South Plains. With later planting, you may want to raise your seeding rate by as much as one-third.”

Jagger, TAM 202, and beardless Longhorn are good varieties for dual-purpose forage and grain production. Other beardless wheats, however, are not recommended as a dual purpose crop but are suitable if a grain crop is not desired, he said.

“Greenbug resistance is another important consideration for dryland or irrigated production. TAM 110 is a greenbug resistant variety that does well in this area,” Trostle said. “We are testing the forage production of so-called modern beardless wheats such as Lockett, Longhorn, or TAM 109 versus conventional Russian beardless wheats. Beardless wheats in general are preferred if you plan to graze-out or hay your wheat.”

Producers can plant small grains for grazing about three to four weeks earlier than they would plant for a grain crop, as long as soil temperatures at a 4-inch depth are below 75 F. Temperatures higher than 75 F will reduce germination, the agronomist said.

“It's best to soil test to determine what nutrients you should provide in the fertilizer mix. A good rule of thumb for wheat is to apply 1? pounds of nitrogen for every bushel of desired grain yield minus any residual soil nitrogen,” Trostle said. “If forage production is your goal, remember that up to 60 pounds of nitrogen is necessary for each ton of dry forage yield.

“If your soil test indicates a need for phosphorus, consider deep placement rather than a broadcast application to put this nutrient closer to the plants' roots.”

Producers who want to split their nitrogen application can apply a sidedress application in February, when plants reach stage five on the Feekes wheat growth scale, he said.

“If you want your wheat to produce a grain crop, you need to terminate the grazing period just before the plants reach jointing — when the tiny, immature grain head can be seen inside a split-open stem,” Trostle concluded. “And if haying is your intention, remember that small grains are like other forages. You will get a higher protein content by cutting before the plants reach full maturity.

“Wheat, for example, can achieve a protein content of 18 percent as it reaches the boot stage.”

Producers can access a full complement of wheat and small grains information on the Internet at: http://lubbock.tamu.edu/wheat.