With ample moisture falling in the past few weeks, South Texas producers have more options for establishing winter pastures. Cool season annual forages may be expensive to grow and maintain but might be cheaper than providing supplements from hay, grain or range cubes or pellets. Proper establishment and species and variety selection are critical.
Recent rainfall offers forage producers alternatives to establish winter pastures. Although cool-season annual forages can be expensive to plant and grow, they can be a less costly substitute for supplements found in a bale, sack, or tub. Growers have several options when it comes to cool-season forage, and all have different pros and cons.
Oat is the least winter-hardy cool-season annual grass, but for South Texas, might be a good choice since hard freezes are not common. Oats can be planted in early fall and will more than likely produce the most early dry matter of the cool-season forages in South Texas. Keep in mind that forage production can be variable with oats. Oats do not grow well on sandy soils, but tolerate wet, poorly drained soils better than other small grains.
Rye is the most winter hardy of the annual winter pasture grasses. Compared to other annual winter grasses, rye produces more fall and winter forage. It matures earlier in the spring than most wheat varieties, usually peaking in early spring. Rye grows well on well-drained soils that are sandy in texture.
Wheat provides the most flexibility as it can serve as a forage crop and grain crop simultaneously, if managed properly. It produces well on a wide range of soils, with very sandy soils being the exception. One negative aspect of wheat is that most of the production occurs in the spring.
Barley and triticale are cool-season annual grasses not as widely used. Barley is most noted for being tolerant of saline and alkaline soils. It does not grow well on sandy soils but is drought tolerant. Triticale is a cross between wheat and rye and its forage production generally exceeds that of wheat. Triticale has characteristics of both parental lines that may make it the most widely adapted of the small grains.
Ryegrass is adapted to a wide range of soil types, growing better on wet soils than most other cool-season annual grasses. It can be easily established by simply broadcasting seed on the soil surface or on grass sod, but establishes better if a light disking operation on a short sod is performed prior to broadcasting the seed. Production of dry matter from ryegrass will be late in the cool season; therefore, most ryegrass forage will generally be available later than the small grains. This is an advantage of ryegrass because mixtures of small grains with ryegrass can work well to extend the grazing season.