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“There are a good number of different species and varieties of annual forages available,” said University of Nebraska-Lincoln Range and Forage Systems Specialist Jerry Volesky.

Volesky outlined the different types of annual forages, as well as growing tips and alternative strategies.

I think it’s very important that we carefully choose the species that we know have been proven to be used in our area or that fit our specific needs and soil conditions,” he continued.

Cool season

The first major category of annual plants is cool season annuals, which are typically spring seeded.

“This group includes things like oats, spring triticale, spring barley, field peas, several other legumes and Italian or annual ryegrass,” said Volesky.

He noted that he is often asked about the practicality of planting winter wheat, winter rye and winter triticale in the spring.

“Basically this is because of the lack of availability of other, more commonly spring-seeded forages,” Volesky explained.

He continued, “Generally, those winter annuals will grow when spring planted, but typically the production from them is rather minimal because, in most cases, they aren’t able to go through the fertilization process.”

Planting cool

“The general planting date for the cool season annuals is mid-March to about mid-April,” explained Volesky. “We like to see those soil temperatures at a minimum of 43 degrees.”

While the forages can be planted later, he noted that producers will typically see less production.

Growers are encouraged to contact their local seed supplier or Extension office to determine the specific seeding rates that should be used.

“For fertilization, typically, we do, of course, like to see soil tests for a more detailed, exact measurement of what those nutrient needs might be,” commented Volesky.

Typically, approximately 50 to 75 pounds of nitrogen per acre is applied for irrigated small grains or for higher rainfall areas.

Volesky noted, “As in all cases, when we’re trying to grow a good crop, some of the basic things as far as the field preparation, drill calibration and planting depth are all very important.”

According to Volesky, the forage quality of different small grains can be fairly good.

“Of course, the key factor in forage quality is the stage of maturity of that plant,” he said.

“In terms of smalls grains that are grazed during the spring, we typically start grazing when they reach a height of about five to six inches, and we would expect very high protein and high digestibility levels at that stage of growth,” he continued.

Warm season

Another group of annual forages used commonly are the warm season annuals, which are typically late spring or early summer planted.

“Warm season annuals include the millets, sorghum/sudangrass hybrids, straight forage sorghum, sudangrass, crabgrass, teff and corn,” said Volesky. “Several legumes are out there that are ideally suited for the warmer parts of the summer, too.”

Warm season annuals are typically planted in mid-May to August, he explained.

“We like to see those soil temperatures at least about 60 degrees. They do like those warm soils and warm growing conditions,” continued Volesky.

The fertilization rate for irrigated acres is typically about 40 to 80 pounds of nitrogen per acre.

According to Volesky, warm season annuals can have relatively prolific forage production.

“The range of dry matter yields for range from 2.6 to 5.3 tons per acre, with taller growing things like the sudangrass averaging in the high range,” he continued.

Other times

“The other time of planting that can be important for some of the annuals is late-summer seeding, where we’re specifically thinking about fall and winter forage,” said Volesky.

Forages that are typically planted in the spring, such as oats, barley, spring triticale and wheat, can also be planted mid- to late-summer.

“Things like field peas, turnips or other brassicas are often included in these mixtures,” he noted.

In general, the planting date is mid-July through August and may extend into early September in some instances.

“We do have to keep in mind that, with those later planting dates, we’re probably going to be looking at yield reductions,” continued Volesky.

He concluded, “In some cases with winter wheat, rye and triticale, we can plant in September. In that situation, we’re mostly thinking about forage for the following spring.”

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Hyattville – Maria Eastman and her husband Skip run an equine-assisted therapy program near Hyattville, and Maria says that she noticed that their horses were getting fatter than they’d like.

“We looked into raising an alternative grass because our horses don’t work very hard, and alfalfa was providing more nutrition than they needed,” Maria says. “I think a lot of people have fat horses because most horses don’t work like they used to, but a lot of our horse hay is produced on standards for performance horses.”

With the concern that their horses were becoming overweight, she started doing some research.

Carbohydrate structures

“When I started looking into it, I learned that there is a specific type of carbohydrate that triggers a number of syndromes and medical problems,” Maria explains. “The carbohydrate is a non-structural carbohydrate that a fructan.”

Fructans are implicated in problems like insulin-resistance, founder and laminitis, and Maria notes that the compound is more prevalent in cool-season, C-3 grasses than it is in warm-season C-4 grasses. Many of the grasses in grass hay mixtures are cool-season grasses.

“As I looked further, I found teff,” she says. “At the time, most people were growing it experimentally, and it seemed to work well, so we looked into planting it.”

Caitlyn Youngquist, Washakie County Extension educator, says, “Teff is a warm-season annual grass that is grown in parts of Africa as a food crop. It’s a gluten-free grain that’s low in non-structural carbohydrates.” 

Planting teff

The Eastmans have been raising teff for five years, and they’ve been pleased with the results.

“The main thing with planting teff is that we have to wait until the soil temperature is about 70 degrees,” Skip says. “The seed is really tiny and very granular, almost like salt.”

He plants teff with a no-till seed drill at a rate of five to seven pounds per acre, although 10 pounds is the recommended rate.

“It costs about three dollars a pound, so it’s not expensive to plant,” he adds. “After we plant, it’s a matter of getting it to grow.”

Until teff is six to eight inches tall, the plant requires a lot of water, but after it is established, Skip says, “We don’t have to water it a lot after it’s started. It gets to about three feet tall.”

The drought-tolerant plant performs well in the Big Horn Basin, and Skip says that it’s also a pretty plant.

“It looks gorgeous,” he says. “Teff is a beautiful hay, and it’s silky.”

Because of the fine stems, Skip also says that it is challenging to bale.

“It’s difficult to bale because it’s so slippery,” he explains. “It’s similar to Indian rice grass.”

Additionally, Skip notes that the hay gets very thick and requires heavy equipment to harvest.

“My hay was so thick that my pull-behind, 14-foot mower couldn’t cut through it,” he says.

Skips says, “Usually I get two cuttings, but I’ve had three cuttings, depending on the weather.”

Additionally, Skip notes that last year, he was able to get 40 tons off 11 acres, but both yield and the number of cuttings depends on the temperatures.

“Last year, it rained frequently, and we weren’t able to get into the field to plant or cut it, so we only got one cutting,” he says. “We also keep irrigating it after the last cutting and then graze it in the fall.”

Benefits

“When we first started raising teff, I thought it might be something that fat horses could eat more of and be happier when they’re drylotted without getting too fat,” Maria says. “We’ve been really surprised because teff has so many benefits.”

In addition to working well for horses, the Eastmans note that neighbors they have sold hay to used it to finish calves.

“We’ve sold teff to a couple people who use it to finish their calves,” Maria says. “They were impressed with the quality of calves. Calves get heavy without looking fat. They also finish with a really high quality.”

“The livestock really like it,” adds Skip, “and we’ve had it tested, even when it was rained on. It still tests well.”

He continues, “The cows go crazy over it in the fall, and they tend to eat teff over alfalfa.”

Skip comments that the prevalence of teff in the Big Horn Basin over the last several years has increased.

“Teff is a neat crop, and there are more people growing it around here,” Skip says. “I think that it’s a great crop for us and for the animals.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Casper – The Wyoming Hay and Forage Association hosted kickoff seminars in various locations across the state on Nov. 14-17.

In addition to a roundtable discussion on hay marketing and transportation and a presentation on the organization of the Association, the seminars also hosted CROPLAN – Winfield Alfalfa and Forage Specialist Jeff Jackson, who discussed optimizing alfalfa production.

While producers have differences in the environment they’re growing alfalfa in and their specific goals, Jackson noted that every producer ultimately wants to improve their production.

“What we want to do is make more tons, and on the other side, we want to improve to get higher quality,” said Jackson.

Seedbed

Having a firm seedbed is critical for a quality alfalfa stand, stressed Jackson.

“My rule of thumb is, if we sink in past the sole of our shoe before we go plant alfalfa, it’s too soft,” said Jackson.

Deciding when to plant is one of the most important decisions that producers will make, said Jackson.

“Do I put the seed in the ground today, or do I make sure it’s better before I do it?”

Jackson advised planting seeds one-quarter of an inch into the soil, ranging up to three-quarters of an inch in coarse soils and no-till fields to reach moisture for germination.

There is not a single way that is best for producers to prepare their fields and plant alfalfa, said Jackson, but they must ensure that general planting principles are met.

“There’s about 1,500 ways to plant alfalfa. We need to just be sure that we’re getting a firm seedbed, we’re not too deep or leaving the seed all on top and other factors like that,” continued Jackson.

Plant nutrition

“If we were to go into the fertilizer bin and scoop fertilizer out, it’s going to take 50 pounds of pot ash fertilizer, 15 pounds of phosphorus, five pounds of sulfur and 0.1 pounds of boron for every ton of dry matter that comes off of that ground,” commented Jackson.

He explained that this equates to 400 pounds of fertilizer, if a producer takes six tons off of a field.

As an alfalfa producer himself, Jackson noted that this is extremely costly, but producers do not want to diminish the growth of the next crop rotating in to the field.

“We need to do what we can. Long-term, that ground isn’t going to sustain itself forever,” said Jackson.

“Depending on what a producer is going to rotate to for the next crop following that alfalfa ground, they don’t want to have to play catch up many years later. We have to be able to put some fertilizer or nutrients back in.”

pH

Soil pH is another factor that may be helpful for producers to consider, especially in situations where soil pH is 7.5 to eight.

“Alfalfa does pretty good in high pH, but if we get 7.5 to eight, our phosphates are going to start getting tied up. It ties up iron. We have less availability of some of these nutrients,” he continued.

Referencing an experience with a producer where added micronutrients increased production by over one ton per acre, Jackson advised supplementing plants with micronutrients to increase forage production in high pH soils.

“If we have a high pH soil, we need to pay attention to how to take care of some of those micronutrient needs that we’re talking about, such as zinc, boron and manganese,” said Jackson.

Fungicide use

Whether moisture is due to precipitation or irrigation, Jackson noted that oftentimes producers have problems with bacterial and fungal infections in alfalfa.

“When we pull the canopy open in irrigation systems, we can have this situation where the leaves start to turn yellow underneath and get spring blackstem and bacterial leaf spot underneath there,” said Jackson.

He advised applying a fungicide to alfalfa plants during the optimal window of six to eight inches in height.

“We should plan to apply it when that alfalfa breaks dormancy in the spring and is about four to six inches tall because, by the time we get an application out there, it’s going to be six to eight inches tall,” continued Jackson.

Spraying a fungicide to lower the incidence of disease helps producers maintain the lower leaves on the plants, as well as improves regrowth quality and plant vigor.

“It’s big deal to maintain those lower leaves because those are the first things that fall off when we start moving it around,” said Jackson. “It improves quality and tonnage.”

He noted that producers do not have to apply a fungicide with every cutting to have the benefits.

“We can get by two cuttings with one application of fungicide. It’s only labeled for three applications a year anyway,” explained Jackson.

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Range and Forage Specialist Jerry Volesky explained annual forages can be an excellent grazing option for cattle producers, and certain considerations and approaches should be taken to optimize their usage.

“The annual forages are typically classified into the two main groups of cool season and warm season,” explained Volesky.

Cool season annuals include plants such as oats, spring triticale, spring barley, field peas and several other legumes.

“The cool season side also includes rye grasses, turnips, radishes and brassicas, as well as winter wheat, rye and triticale,” he continued.

Warm season annuals include both grazing and hay types of millet, sorghum/sudangrass hybrids, straight sorghum and sudangrass, as well as crabgrass, teff, forage corn and other legumes.

“Sometimes we’ll see the forage cocktails or cover crop mixtures have both cool and warm seasons within the same seed mix,” noted Volesky.

Considerations

“Grazing is not as efficient as haying, and by this I mean that grazing interrupts the plant growth and that may reduce some of the potential growth of that plant,” said Volesky.

He also noted that there is a potential for trampling losses when grazing, as well.

When grazing, producers should take special care to begin grazing animals when the forage is at the appropriate stage of growth or height to promote plant health.

Volesky continued, “In the grazing system, simple rotations are beneficial. This certainly allows for an increase in the harvest efficiency.”

When using warm season annuals, he encouraged producers to use staggered plantings.

“By staggered plantings, I mean spacing out the planting dates across two or three different fields,” said Volesky. “It can be beneficial to avoid having the majority of that warm season annuals growing very fast and maturing too quickly before we get to graze it.”

It is also advisable to have some stocking flexibility and to have access to a nearby pasture in the event that cattle get ahead of what forage is growing.

With any annual, Volesky reminded producers to be mindful of nitrates and that some have the potential cause problems with prussic acid.

He also noted, “In the spring, on the lush cool seasons, grass tetany should be thought about.”

Grazing numbers

Cool season annuals and small grains should typically reach about six to eight inches in height before they’re grazed.

“For late summer-planted cool season annuals, we could allow more growth,” Volesky commented.

Warm season annuals should be approximately 15 to 20 inches high for sudangrass or pearl millet and 18 to 24 inches tall for sorghum/sudangrass hybrids.

When talking about carrying capacity, Volesky explained that an animal unit (AU) is equal to a 1,000-pound ruminant, which would consume 26 pounds of forage per day, and a cow/calf pair would be equal to 1.5 AUs.

“In terms of assuming grazing efficiency, we’ll typically assume about 50 percent grazing efficiency,” he continued.

When looking at early spring planted cool season annual forages and assuming a 2.5-ton-per-acre hay yield, Volesky said that the AUs grazed would be lower because of the decreased efficiency.

“If we were to graze that for one month, it would be 2.14 cow/calf pairs per acre, or if we grazed it for about 1.5 months, we would be able to stock it at about 1.42 cow/calf pairs per acre,” he noted.

When looking at warm season annuals averaging four tons per acre hay yield, if a producer decided to graze pairs for three months, the stocking rate would be 0.91 pairs per acre.

Options

Volesky noted that there are other grazing options for annuals that producers can consider.

“With warm season annuals, we can stockpile them or leave them standing after they’ve completely frozen down and graze those later in the fall or early winter,” he said.

Windrowing is another option producers can consider after the first frost.

“Those forages could be windrowed and the windrows left in place for direct grazing,” continued Volesky.

Cool season annuals can be grazed down easily until the plants are completely frozen.

“It takes some pretty cold temperatures, in the 10 to 15 degree neighborhood, before cool season annuals completely stop growing for the year,” he commented.

For both types of annuals, strip grazing is another option. The portable fencing used could also be utilized in grazing windrows.

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

There are many legume crops that can be used as important forage legumes. Alfalfa, the queen of forages, is one of the best legumes, and it can be grown in every state of the U.S. Alfalfa is the number one crop in Wyoming and contributes hugely to the nation’s economy.

However, there are some areas in Wyoming, especially at high elevations, alfalfa does not perform very well in grass mixtures. So, what are other alternatives? Alsike clover is a forage legume that can potentially be used in this scenario.

Alsike clover, also called Swedish clover or hybrid clover, is a short-lived, perennial legume. It is well adapted to southern Canada, the northern U.S. and, importantly, the higher elevations of the western U.S. Being a cool-season crop, alsike clover prefers relatively moist habitats and cool environments. It has good acid and alkaline tolerance and performs well in low fertility and poorly drained soils. However, it does not have tolerance to drought.

The growth of alsike clover is intermediate compared to alfalfa. It has an upright growth habit; hollow, branched stems; and a short taproot. The leaves of alsike clover are a little wider than alfalfa, with toothed leaf margins and prominent veins. The flowers have a small head with beautiful white- to pink-colored petals.

Like alfalfa, alsike clovers can be planted in spring or late summer. The recommended seeding rate is eight to 10 pounds per acre when planted alone and four to six pounds per acre in a mixture. The seed size of alsike clover is very similar to alfalfa, so it should be planted 0.125 to 0.25 inches deep. If the soil is light and sandy, it can be planted 0.5 inches deep. There are a few varieties available in the market to purchase, such as alsike clover 98/85, Aurora and Dawn. It is highly recommended that seeds should be inoculated with alsike clover-specific Rhizobium bacteria for proper nodulation and nitrogen fixation.

Alsike clovers can be used for hay and pasture. It performs better in mixtures with grasses and other legumes, such as red clover and white clover. It is also used for soil improvement. The forage quality of alsike clover is high and comparable to alfalfa. In general, for hay, only one cutting should be made at near full bloom.

Alsike clovers should not be harvested four to six weeks before hard frost. Another side note is that, being a clover and similar to alfalfa, it also has potential to cause bloat problems and may be photosensitive to cattle.

As always, if you want to learn more about alsike clovers or have any specific questions, please feel free to contact me.

Anowar Islam is an associate professor and the University of Wyoming Extension forage specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He can be reached at 307-766-4151 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..