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Small Grains

  • Rye (Secale cereale)
  • Oats (Avena sativa)
  • Wheat (Triticum aestivum)
  • Triticale (Triticum secale)

Plant Characteristics: Cool-season annual bunchgrasses. Seed heads are spikes, except for oat (panicle). Ligules are blunt and membranous depending on the species. Oats has a membranous ligule, auricles absent, and leaves wider than other small grains. Rye has non-hairy small to medium-size auricles, leaf sheaths are usually hairy, and leaves are blue-green color. Wheat has small to medium-size hairy auricles and the leaf sheath is not hairy. Triticale is a cross between wheat and rye.

Establishment: Oats will be better adapted to lower half of the state. Triticale, rye and wheat will be more adapted to the upper half of the sate. Wheat is usually more tolerant to heavy wet soils than oats and rye. Triticale has a high salinity tolerance. Most Seeds are planted from September 15 to October 30 at a rate of 90 to 120 lb/ac in pure stand or 60 to 90 lb/ac in mixtures (clovers or annual ryegrass). Oats are often mixed with vetches, and sometimes peas. Arroleaf clover is usually a good companion for small grains.

Fertilization: Small grains are usually adapted to sandy-loam or clay-loam soils with a ph of 5.5 to7.5. Small grains are highly responsive to nitrogen. Adequate amounts of phosphorous and potassium should be supplied based on soil test recommendations. The principle fertilizer need of small grains is normally nitrogen. If the cereal is to be used for forage, a fall application of N is particularly critical. However, large fall applications may result in luxury consumption of N, and high forage yields often cannot be sustained without additional N fertilizer later in the year. Typical recommended N fertilizer rates for small grain forage are 30 lb N/ac in the fall and 30 lb/ac topdressed in early spring. The amount of N needed will depend on the small grain species, soil type, crop use, previous crop, and planting date. When small grains are to be grazed, an additional 30 lb of N should be applied at seeding. A late February-early March application of 30 lb N/ac will stimulate tillering and early spring growth. Phosphorus (P) stimulates rapid, early growth. If P is needed, it should be applied at or before seeding. Potassium (K) response in small grains has been less than for N or P. However, low levels of soil K should be corrected to aid standing ability and increase yield. Small grains harvested for silage remove large amounts of K from the soil (approx. 50 lb K2O/ac). Therefore, fall-applied K should be based on the needs of the small grain silage crop rather than the following summer annual crop.

Grazing/Hay Management: Forage utilization and management changes depending on the species: Rye (pasture), wheat and oat (pasture, hay or silage), and triticale (hay or silage). Yields can vary depending on weather conditions and zones. Productivity of small grains in the southern part of the state occurs from November to April while in the northern part occurs from November to December and February to April. Small grains yields range from 4 to 6 tons/ac. Oats are usually grazed using controlled, rationed grazing with electric fencing. If oats are slightly grazed a second grazing will be produced. Adequate stocking rate and rotational grazing using 2 to 3 hrs intervals are best grazing management. Hay should be cut at the boot stage.

Forage Quality: Crude protein ranges form 11% (dough) to 23% (boot) depending in the stage of maturity. Dry matter digestibility ranges from 64% (dough) to 81% (boot). TDN ranges from 67 to 75%. Approximate values of ADF and NDF are 37 and 55%, respectively.

Varieties/Cultivars: Oats [Dallas (best cold tolerant), TAM 606, Harrison, Horizon 314], Rye (Elbon Rye), Triticale (TAMCALE 5019), and Wheat (Longhorn, Lockett).

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