Double cropping annual forages is a good way to boost profits and provide extra pasture for livestock. However, it takes some planning, timely operations, and adequate rainfall at the right time.
Bruce Anderson, a University of Nebraska extension forage specialist, recommends planting the spring crop as soon as possible. He notes that mixing small grains like oats and triticale with field peas or some brassicas is a good place to start. This mixture can be grazed 45 to 56 days after planting and typically lasts until early to mid-June when stocked and managed correctly.
“As portions of this spring planting get grazed out, the double crop of a summer annual grass like sudangrass or pearl millet can be planted,” Anderson notes. “With adequate moisture, the summer annual grass will be ready to graze in 45 to 50 days and may last through September.”
The specialist notes that winter annual cereals like winter rye, wheat, or triticale that are planted late fall for spring forage improve the double cropping cycle. Just like spring planting, once the pasture is grazed out, plant the summer annual crop, which will be ready for grazing by mid-summer.
“Another strategy is to plant the summer annual grasses first in mid- to late May,” Anderson says. “Graze out portions of them in August, then plant oats or turnips or both for late fall and winter grazing."
All of these strategies rely on moisture or irrigation to produce an adequate amount of forage to make them profitable. Anderson recommends having extra hay or a nearby pasture available to temporarily feed livestock if more growing time is needed for the annuals.
Michaela King served as the 2019 Hay & Forage Grower summer editorial intern. She currently attends the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and is majoring in professional journalism and photography. King grew up on a beef farm in Big Bend, Wis., where her 4-H experiences included showing both beef and dairy cattle.