Ryegrass can make great feed, but there are several types and growers need to know the differences, says Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska extension forage specialist.
He says perennial ryegrass may be the highest-quality perennial grass in the world and is grown widely in mild climates. But it doesn't like hot, dry summers or dry winters, so it doesn't survive well in Nebraska.
“I suggest using it only in mixtures for short-term use with animals that respond greatly to high quality, like dairy cows or stockers,” says Anderson.
There are two types of annual ryegrass: Westerworld and Italian. Westerworld grows fast after spring planting but goes to seed in early summer. If grazed or clipped, it usually regrows, although slowly, and forms seed heads again. It won't survive Nebraska winters, so it's best used as an emergency forage, says Anderson.
The best Italian ryegrasses act like biennials — they don't form seed heads the first year. After planting, they start growing fast in about June and continue growing until a killing frost and all the growth is high-quality leaves. Winter survival isn't very dependable and varies from year to year and by variety.
Botanically, Westerworld can be called Italian ryegrass, sometimes causing confusion, says Anderson.
“So be very specific when buying these ryegrasses,” he advises.