Grazing Cool Season Annual Grasses

Grazing is one of the best uses for cool season annual grasses. However, the species differ somewhat in their tolerance of grazing. Ryegrass and rye are generally very tolerant of repeated grazing, while triticale generally does not regrow quickly after repeated grazing. Barley, wheat, and oats have poor grazing tolerance.

Grazing can begin as soon as the plants are well-established and have accumulated 4 in. (or more) of growth. Begin with a light stocking rate and gradually increase as the growing conditions improve and forage growth rate increases. Consider the forage quality, nutritional needs of the animals, amount of forage present, availability and the cost of other feed items when deciding how many animals to graze. Restricting the animal’s time on the paddock, rotating animals between paddocks, or using strip grazing techniques will improve utilization and reduce damage to the stand. Grazing when the soil is too wet (when animals’ hooves can bog in the soil) can severely damage winter annuals and will decrease potential production.

Consider the need for conserved forage, crop rotations that may follow, and the value of available forage when deciding when to terminate grazing. If ryegrass and legumes are permitted to produce mature seed, a volunteer crop will often develop the following fall.

Dr. Dennis Hancock
Forage Extension Specialist
Crop & Soil Sciences Dept.