Triticale, once labeled by some as a poor substitute for corn and other silages, is scoring high with Texas dairies.

For David Hinders, Canyon, triticale silage is available when brown midrib (BMR) or other fall-harvested sorghum silages run out, permitting year-round silage feeding. And it has outperformed wheat silage and hay at his dairy and in research trials by Texas A&M University.

This cross between rye and wheat is part of rations for an estimated 40 dairies in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, southwestern Kansas and eastern New Mexico.

“For our dairy, triticale silage is on par with, or close to as good as, BMR sorghum silage,” says Hinders, whose family's 300-cow dairy has been around over 50 years. “Triticale hay helps improve rumen motility and our butterfat is high.”

The TMR is either triticale or BMR sorghum silage, alfalfa, steam-flaked corn, whole cottonseed and canola meal. The rolling herd average is about 24,000 lbs of milk with 3.8% fat and 3.15% protein.

Unlike many newer dairies in the Texas Panhandle, Hinders runs a dryland operation. Like winter wheat or rye, triticale is sown in late August. It provides fall and winter grazing before animals are pulled in February. It's cut for silage in April, usually just before it heads.

“Triticale quality is improved with early harvest,” says Hinders. “We'll see 12-14% protein. But if it has already headed out, protein drops to about 8.5%.”

His dryland triticale silage yields are 7-8 tons/acre. He plants a beardless triticale variety, but says bearded varieties also work. “The bearded may be even better for grazing,” says Hinders.

“Triticale silage is a good alternative to wheat silage,” says Texas A&M University agronomist Brent Bean, Amarillo. “In research conducted at one regional dairy with triticale and wheat under full irrigation, the triticale silage yielded 16 tons/acre. That compared to 13.1 tons/acre for wheat silage.”

The study included four triticale varieties and eight wheat varieties harvested at the boot-to-early-heading stage. Triticale's average in vitro true digestibility (IVTD) was 84.3% vs. 83.8% for wheat.

“Again, late harvesting can hurt quality,” says Bean, noting that from early-to-late-head stage, the IVTD of triticale or wheat silage drops from above 80% to 70%or below.

“So one of the disadvantages of triticale or wheat silage is harvest timing” — it's critical to producing high-quality silage, says Bean. “The earlier the harvest, the higher the quality, but this also results in lower yield. Harvesting silage also removes a lot of soil nutrients compared to a grain crop, and they must be replenished for a crop to follow.

“But the advantages include a reduction in irrigation needs (compared to a wheat grain crop) and reduced risk due to early removal of the crop. Triticale or wheat can also be double-cropped with a summer crop.”

Ellen Jordan, Texas A&M dairy specialist in Dallas, says that, while triticale silage can be high in protein,it will probably lack the energy value of corn or sorghum silage. Revisions to rations will likely be needed.

“They may need to reduce other protein sources and look at degradable and undegradable protein in their rations,” says Jordan. “If the silage is lower in energy, they may need to add additional corn or energy from a fat source.

“Some dairymen end up making triticale into hay if they can't get it harvested quick enough for silage,”she adds. “It's more apt to be fed in a dry cow or heifer ration.”