Timing is crucial for achieving a high-quality ryelage harvest, says Paul Craig, Dauphin County, PA, extension agent. “Producers must have harvest equipment ready to go,” he states. “The quality of ryelage rapidly decreases with maturity and one day in harvest delay can make the difference between high-quality and average- to poor-quality forage. If producers rely on custom harvesters, these individuals should be contacted now to plan approximate harvest schedules.”

With the arrival of warmer temperatures in parts of Pennsylvania recently, the cereal rye crop has rapidly begun to grow and develop. In some areas in southern Pennsylvania, the crop is approaching mid-calf height and will quickly reach knee height. So the harvest for highest-quality forage is just around the corner.

“The most successful ryelage managers time harvest for maximum plant sugar levels with the highest level of digestible forage fiber,” says Craig. They mow the crop just before heads emerge, with a goal of having no more than 5% of the tillers showing signs of emerged heads. “You can monitor where the head is within the plant stalk by feeling for it or by carefully dissecting the tiller,” he advises. “Once the flag leaf has emerged, the seed head is soon to follow.”

Cereal rye can produce high yields that are slow to dry after mowing. A fast drydown maximizes the level of plant sugars, resulting in better fermentation in the silo and higher-quality forage for cows. So mow the forage in as wide a swath as possible. If it isn’t conditioned, it will continue to respire after mowing and will dry faster.

Many successful ryelage producers ted twice, each time when the surface of the swath is dry. Finally, a rake is used when moisture is close to the 62-65% harvest target.

An inoculant is usually used. Craig recommends talking to suppliers to select the proper inoculant for ryelage. “Be certain to check inoculant rates and the manufacturer date to ensure high-quality products,” he says.