Bob March was looking to maximize pasture for his beef cattle, hoping to get more fall and spring grazing and reduce his need for hay. After years of experimenting with combinations of winter grains and cool-season grasses, he thinks he's found a winning combination in triticale and ryegrass.
This Etna, CA, rancher now moves 100 cattle between four 20-acre pasture cells from March through November, extending both fall and winter grazing by at least a month.
On Aug. 20, 2006, he took the recommendation of local University of California (UC) researchers and seeded the 80 acres to a mix of Bison intermediate ryegrass and a beardless triticale variety. He irrigated it and, in September of that year, fertilized it with 75 lbs/acre of N.
“We grazed the pastures that fall, maybe even a bit too long into November, but we had good growth in spring and were able to pasture it again beginning in early March, which is about a month earlier than normal,” he reports.
March figures he got 1.4 animal units/acre/month from fall grazing and 3.9 animal units with spring grazing. Then he got an extra hay cutting due to unusually favorable growing conditions.
“With good moisture we got close to 5 tons of hay in two cuttings. Along with the amount the cattle grazed in fall and spring, we figure the overall yield to be around 8 tons a year.”
He drilled a new crop of triticale into the ryegrass last August and says he again got exceptional fall grazing.
A key to making the system work is Bison, a unique hybrid ryegrass that resembles an annual but lasts two to four years, explains UC farm advisor Dan Drake. He and colleague Steve Orloff have worked for the last seven years to find the most synergistic triticale-ryegrass system for the Intermoun-tain Region of northern California.
In UC variety trials, Bison was consistently one of the top-yielding pasture grasses, outyielding annual ryegrass varieties and being com-petitive with tall fescues. March's 80 acres are the first large-scale test of the system over multiple years.
“Originally, we worked with just triticale, targeting the added feed benefits of the crop in late fall and early spring,” Drake recalls. “But some falls can get too wet for the cereal crop, so we added a grass to make a better sod. The combination worked really well and can add 30-60 days of grazing per year in the Scott Valley area.”
Hay quality has been good, says March, but it varies in makeup from one cell to the next. From cells grazed earlier in spring, March no-ticed two to three times more triticale in the hay than ryegrass, but those grazed later had more ryegrass than triticale.
“Triticale doesn't like hot weather and tends to shut down in the warmer months, when the ryegrass seems to take over,” he says.
One management caution, he adds, is that because triticale matures fairly quickly, once it gets to the flower stage you have a slightly shorter window for cutting the hay.
“It seems to go quicker than other grains we've planted, and while that doesn't hurt the tonnage, it will affect the quality,” March reports.
“The upside for us is that, with triticale in the mix, we're able to graze in the spring as soon as the ground firms up and is dry enough, which also pushes back the start of haying about four to five weeks, until the end of June. It's easier for us to put up hay then, since the days are longer and it cures faster.”
Another plus to the triticale is that it makes very good feed, says March.
“My cattle really like it and seem to do well on it, and the horse owners we sell hay to say the horses really clean it up, too. I think it's a better-quality feed than fescue.”
Weeds and insects have not been a problem, nor did he see any raised levels of nitrates, which was a concern of his in the beginning.
“This system really seems to have a lot of pluses,” he says. “It saves me a seeding trip, keeps more of the animal waste in the pasture and lets me sell more hay. So far, it seems to be a winner. We'll see how it does this year.”