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.
Small grains should be planted from 1 to 1.5 inches deep, and ryegrass should be planted approximately 1/8 to ¼ inches deep. Clovers and medics have very small seed and should be either planted 1/8 to ¼ inches deep or broadcast on the soil surface and rolled. Seeding rates for cool-season small grains range from 90 to 120 pounds per acre, while ryegrass seeding rates range from 25 to 30 pounds per acre and clovers and medics range from 4 to 16 pounds per acre.
Fertilization for cool-season forages should be based on soil test recommendation and fertilizer should be applied at planting or after emergence, except for phosphorus, which should be applied several weeks ahead of the anticipated planting date. Nitrogen fertilization of over-seeded small grains or ryegrass is usually split into two applications of 50 to 60 pounds per acre for each.
If ryegrass is planted in combination with a small grain, one to two additional applications of nitrogen will be required. The initial nitrogen application on small grains should be delayed until after the small grain is established and cool temperatures have reduced warm-season grass growth. For ryegrass-only pastures, the first nitrogen application should not be applied until mid January and then again approximately six weeks later.
Although winter pastures provide forage that is high in nutritive value, establishment and maintenance costs are relatively high. Therefore, winter pastures containing small grains should be carefully managed to maximize return on investment.
One last caution: we have to have rain to make this system work. Variety test information is available at http://varietytesting.tamu.edu/