David Bransby knows annual ryegrass. The Auburn University researcher has been growing the cool-season forage since 1988, consistently getting gains of 500-700 lbs/acre.
“Producers can get the same, or better, results,” he says.
Here's his formula.
First, think prepared seedbed. “We use conventional tillage and plow with a disk harrow,” says Bransby. “We get very good results, a whole lot more production than if we overseed.”
Bransby also applies potassium and phosphorus according to soil test, as well as 60-100 units of N at planting. He plants anywhere from mid-September in northern Alabama to late September in the middle of the state to October near the Gulf Coast. He broadcasts or drills 25-30 lbs of seed an acre.
“If you broadcast, run a cultipacker over it,” he recommends.
As for variety, Bransby is sold on Marshall. “It has a remarkable combination of traits. It's very cold tolerant, extremely tolerant of grazing, and seeds late in the season.”
After planting, pray for rain and be patient.
“It's very, very important to let the ryegrass get at least 6" tall, but preferably 9" tall, before turning cattle on it,” says Bransby. “One of the biggest mistakes people make is they tend to turn cattle out too early. They struggle for the rest of the season if they do that.
“The production in the spring is twice as much as in the fall,” the researcher points out. “But that production depends on how much you let the foliage and root system develop.”
Bransby generally stocks his pastures with two 500-lb steers per acre and leaves them, unless extremely cold, wet or dry weather decimates the pasture. Then he puts the steers in a sacrifice pasture and supplements them until the ryegrass rebounds.
With annual ryegrass, growers don't have to worry about subdividing the pastures and rotating the cattle.
“With some forages, you have to use rotational grazing,” says Bransby. “But we've compared 10 subdivisions, moving the cattle every two to three days, with continuous grazing. There was no production benefit from rotational grazing.”
However, since ryegrass has a moisture content of up to 90%, Bransby says supplementing with hay usually seems to help gains.
He says the grazing season normally lasts 90-140 days. But some growers get up to 200 days of grazing.
Cattle are the last part of the equation. Bransby insists on good-quality steers that are dewormed and properly vaccinated.
“The health of the cattle can make or break you,” he states. “We also implant the steers. We get as much as 40-100 lbs of extra gain for $1.”