Barley, oats, triticale or wheat no-tilled into small-grain stubble in late summer can extend the fall grazing season, says Vance Owens.

“These small grains offer very good grazing potential,” says Owens, South Dakota State University forage agronomist. “One grain doesn't stick out above the others in terms of performance, except that rye and triticale seem to stay a bit greener and more upright a little longer.”

In a two-year trial near Brookings, the yield and quality of the four species were very good across a range of planting and harvesting dates, says Owens.

“There was a lot of dry matter accumulation until the first frost and then the plants started to dry down.”

Protein values of the small grains stayed around 15%. “The fiber values were good, too,” he says. “The NDFs ran about 35-40%, with ADFs in the low 20% range. There were only slight reductions in quality over the sampling period.”

In 2002 and 2003, Owens and his associates planted the grains on Aug. 1, Aug. 15, Sept. 1 and Sept. 15 in research plots. In addition, a 30-acre field of barley was planted around Aug. 10 for grazing by weaned beef calves. In all cases, the crops were seeded into oat stubble.

Beginning in mid-October of both years, the calves grazed the barley for several weeks. Average daily gains were approximately 1.4-1.5 lbs both years.

All four species were hand harvested in the research plots. Harvest dates and yields the first year were: Oct. 15, 2,200 lbs of dry matter/acre; Oct. 31, 2,700 lbs; Nov. 15, 2,800 lbs; and Dec. 2, 2,200 lbs.

In 2003, the highest yields — 2,000 lbs of dry matter/acre — were harvested Oct. 15.

“In 2003, we didn't have as much moisture, and there was an earlier frost, so yields weren't quite as good,” says Owens.

Seeding the small grains for late-season grazing can work in a fair number of areas in the Upper Midwest if late-summer rain is adequate and the first frost isn't too early. Owens recommends planting as early as possible and absolutely no later than Aug. 15.

“Getting the grains planted early is one of the most critical things you can do to maximize production.”

He also suggests planting awn-less barley varieties. “We had significant seed-head development, although the animals didn't seem to mind. But if awn development is excessive, you might have mouth trouble.”

Owens believes grazing could start earlier than mid-October, especially if the grains are planted in July.