Before feeding small grain forages, match “the feed to the need,” say California researchers exploring harvest-stage effects on winter forage yield and quality.

In other words, feed cereal forage at the highly digestible boot stage to high-producing dairy cows. Lower-energy, soft-dough stage forage better meets the nutritional needs of dry cows and growing heifers, the researchers found.

In 2001, they sampled four small grain forages — oats, wheat and two varieties of triticale — in five-day intervals from preboot to hard dough stage of maturity. They found that all should be harvested by soft dough stage if they'll be fed to dairy cattle.