Despite dry conditions over much of western and central Kansas this fall, some areas have had enough recent rain to increase the chances of having pasture for cattle. Producers should keep several considerations in mind, however, if they plan to use their wheat fields as pasture this year, said Jim Shroyer, Kansas State University Research and Extension crop production specialist.

“Cattle should not be put onto wheat pasture until there is crown root development to anchor the plants,” Shroyer said. “That may take a little longer than normal this year if growth is slowed by dry soil conditions.

“Don’t just look at top growth and assume that if the wheat is tillered, crown roots have developed; sometimes that’s not the case. Check some plants to make sure there is good root development. Cattle should not be able to pull the plants out of the ground as they graze.”

In general, there should be 6 to 12 inches of top growth before pasturing wheat, but the true test of when the wheat is ready is to see if crown roots have developed enough that the wheat is hard to pull out of the ground, according to Shroyer.

Producers should plan to use extra nitrogen on wheat that is being used for pasture, said Dorivar Ruiz Diaz, K-State Research and Extension nutrient management specialist.

“Cattle remove nitrogen in the wheat forage. It’s not uncommon to see nitrogen deficiencies in wheat after cattle have been removed,” he said. “For every 100 pounds per acre of animal gain, producers should apply another 40 pounds per acre of nitrogen in order to maintain grain yields.

“Producers should use split applications of nitrogen, with part of the nitrogen going on in early fall, and part of it applied as soon as the cattle are pulled off in the late winter or early spring.”

Producers should have a dry area available to move the cattle when the fields get wet. That will help limit soil compaction problems, Shroyer said.