Planting small grains and annual ryegrass even in early September can help make up forage deficits in Ohio, suggests Mark Sulc, Ohio State University extension forage specialist. That, of course, is assuming adequate rainfall.
Seedings should be completed no later than the end of this week in northern Ohio and by Sept. 10-15 in southern Ohio. Graziers will get the most benefit from forages planted this late in the season, says Sulc.
Oats seeded at 70-90 lbs/acre at this time of year may produce from 0.75 to 1.5 tons of forage dry matter per acre. Forage quality will be extremely high with late plantings (low NDF and crude protein near 30%). Oats can be seeded no-till or into tilled seedbeds following wheat or corn silage harvest. Sulc recommends no-till seeding to preserve soil moisture and provide firm footing for grazing animals.
Oats can also be no-till seeded into existing perennial pastures that have been grazed short. It works best when soil moisture is adequate for oat germination and growth, but not abundant enough for stimulating strong pasture regrowth, Sulc says. This may be the case this year, because of dry soil conditions in much of Ohio.
Spring triticale can also produce well in autumn, but seed cost is much higher. Fall-planted winter rye will produce limited forage, and winter triticale will produce little to no forage yet this year. But both will produce significant forage early next spring. Winter wheat is not an autumn forage option because planting may need to be delayed until after the Hessian fly safe date. Mixing oats (seeded at 60-70 lbs/acre) with a winter cereal (80-90 lbs/acre) such as winter rye, winter wheat or winter triticale can provide both autumn and spring forage. Oats produce most of the autumn forage, and the winter cereal will produce the early spring forage.
Annual/Italian ryegrass is an option if planted by early to mid-September. Italian ryegrass will most likely produce less forage than oats this autumn. However, a few Italian ryegrass varieties have the potential to survive Ohio’s winters and produce additional forage next spring. Ohio Forage Performance Trials (www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/forage2006/default.asp) may help you select annual ryegrass varieties.
Annual/Italian ryegrass should be planted at 20-25 lbs seed/acre. Planted in early September in Western Ohio, the grass has produced 0.3-1 ton of forage dry matter per acre by November to early December, and some varieties have yielded 3-6 tons of dry matter per acre the following year with nitrogen fertilization.
A word of caution about annual/Italian ryegrass – it may not be the best option if a grain crop will be planted early next spring, Sulc says. The ryegrass can be hard to kill then and may become a weed in wheat.
You may need to apply N to get good production from these annual grass forages. Sulc advises applying 100 lbs urea/acre, except where there may be significant levels of residual N are left in the soil. Oats and annual ryegrass are good N scavengers, and excess soil N can result in accumulation of toxic levels of nitrates in the forage.
Finally, utilize residue from one of Ohio’s most important annual grasses – corn. One acre of corn stover can meet the nutritional needs of one mature beef cow for about a month. For more information, refer to the fact sheet ANR-10-02 “Grazing Corn Residue,” available at OSU extension offices and at ohioline.osu.edu/anr-fact/0010.html.