Millet: An Exciting Pasture Plant

Cow grazing Japanese Millet at the Beidler Farm in Randoph. Photo by Deb Heleba
Cow grazing Japanese Millet at the Beidler Farm in Randoph. Photo by Deb Heleba


Soon we’ll be coming up on the time of the summer where pastures really slow down and seem not to be growing at all. We are moving past the period of most rapid growth for our cool-season grasses (bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and orchard grass, for example) and in late summer we’ll see that growth revive again. The thing about cool-season grasses is that they really slow down when the weather isn’t cool (surprise!). Longer rest periods for individual paddocks during this time can help prevent overgrazing damage, as plants will need longer (30+ days) before they will be ready to be grazed again.

One advanced management practice is to plant summer annual grasses such as millet. Unlike the cool-season perennials, warm-season annuals thrive when the temperatures rise. The optimal planting time for annuals such as millet is between June 1st and July 1st when soil temperatures reach at least 65 degrees. Unlike sorghum-sudangrass, millet does not carry the risks associated with prussic acid and it can tolerate wetter soils. It should be grazed at about 18 inches tall and can be grazed more than once.

Some farmers use millet when renovating pastures, plowing and then seeding down with millet for the season, before re-planting with a pasture mix in early fall. We know that farmers in other parts of Vermont have had success with this crop, but tilling up Addison County heavy clay soil in the window that is needed, can be a challenge. We are not sure how well it will do when drilled in to existing stands, but this summer we will be experimenting with no-tilling millet into perennial pastures on a handful of farms to see if we can get an increase in dry matter production in the late summer months. We are going to drill in a variety of pearl millet called ‘Wonderleaf’ as well as a mixture called ‘Summerfeast’ which contains both pearl millet and forage brassica.  The idea being that the brassica plants will also provide some forage later into the grazing season.  Stay tuned for some exciting results…

Cover Crops as Forage Crops…A Look at Winter Rye and Triticale

Deer Valley Farm harvesting winter rye for round bale silage just before tilling it under and planting corn.
Deer Valley Farm harvesting winter rye for round bale silage just before tilling it under and planting corn.

by Kirsten Workman, Agronomy Outreach Professional

‘Double Cropping’ or the practice of harvesting two crops from the same field in one year is not a new concept by any means.  However, as more and more farmers in the Champlain Valley are starting to look at cover crops as part of their crop rotation, it becomes a very viable option to evaluate harvesting them for forage.  The most popular cover crop planted here in Vermont after corn silage is Winter Rye.  Recently, however, we have started to see more and more farmers plant Winter Triticale (a cross between winter rye and winter wheat) for its purported value as a forage crop.  This spring, several producers harvested winter rye and triticale for forage.  We were able to collect forage samples in an attempt to compare them to each other and get a better sense of the overall value of these crops as forage. 

 We collected samples from three farms on five fields.  The farms we collected samples from were located in Williston, North Ferrisburgh, and Wells, Vermont.  The farms were harvesting these cover crops as baleage or grazing them.  We calculated yields and sent the samples for analysis.  Below is a table with our results, averaged by crop.  The fields were all no-till drilled in late September at between 100 and 150 lbs/acre (after corn silage or into pasture) and harvested in mid-May.  All of the crops were fertilized in the spring (with Urea or solid dairy manure).  The majority of samples were taken at harvest during the split-boot stage (Feekes stage 10).  The yield measurements represent one harvest, and do not account for multiple harvests.  The pasture was grazed a second time in early June and that harvest would increase overall yields.

 Overall, in our samples, triticale performed better than rye from a forage quality standpoint.  Rye, however, outperforms in yields, sometimes by double.  One of our triticale samples tested out at 22% protein when harvested at the split boot stage, but our samples averaged out at 17% CP.  The rye was not far behind at 16% CP.  We also found that planting at higher rates increased yields and quality.


 In Alburgh, VT UVM Extension Agronomist, Dr. Heather Darby found similar results with her winter rye planting trials.  She found similar dry matter yields over the 2011 and 2012 seasons.  They didresults see lower crude protein levels at closer to 12% (our rye samples averaged 16% crude protein).

 Aaron Gabriel, of Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Capital Area Agriculture and Horticulture Program also collected samples on four fields this May that were each planted to rye and triticale.  Although they did not collect yield data, the protein levels were also lower than ours.  Rye averaged 12.7% CP while triticale averaged 14.6% CP.  Their relative feed values were very close to what we found…both crops averaging well over 100.

 Like all crops, yield and quality all depend on management. Planting and harvesting in a timely manner, a good fertility program, and appropriate soils will have the most impact on growing a high quality, high yielding crop.  In these situations, either crop would fit the bill.  If you are hoping to get a crop off early in order to get your long season corn or soybeans established, winter rye might be a better fit. 

 Although dry matter yields are the best way to compare results, it is important to note that from a feed management standpoint, rye yielded up to 4 tons per acre of baleage (assuming 55% moisture) and closer to 5 tons/acre of chopped silage (assuming 65% moisture).  Triticale yielded between around 2 tons/acre at 55% moisture and almost 3 tons/acre at 65% moisture. 

 For a cost of $35 per acre to seed these cover crops, a farmer can see a return of between $80 and $200 in feed value (depending on your yields).


This winter rye measured in at 36" at harvest time during the split boot stage.  It yielded almost 2 dry matter tons per acre.
This winter rye measured in at 36″ at harvest time during the split boot stage. It yielded almost 2 dry matter tons per acre.

Overall, triticale matures later than rye and is shorter with less biomass.  It did test out as higher quality feed in our sampling, but was inconclusive

statistically. Rye does yield higher.  In one field where rye was planted right next to triticale in the same field, the rye produced 1.49 DM tons per acre while the triticale yielded 0.91 DM tons per acre.  In our observations, triticale seed is often more expensive and harder to get a hold of.  Although, that may change as more producers purchase it over time.  We found that seeding at higher rates closer to 150 pounds/acre gives higher yields and better quality (higher protein, lower NDF) than fields seeded at a lower rate of 100 pounds per acre. 

 An additional one or two dry matter tons per acre of quality feed is not a bad return on the investment of seed.  Add to that the erosion prevention you accomplish over the winter and early spring, the nutrient recycling that occurs, and the soil health benefits of increased organic matter, better soil structure, and it seems like it makes sense in most cases.  If you are unable to harvest these crops as forage and must plow or burn them down with herbicide, they can contribute significant amounts of nutrients back to your soil profile, enabling you to reduce fertilizer inputs.  Rye provided 45 to 90 pounds of nitrogen, an average of 9 pounds of Phosphorus and 80 pounds of potassium; while triticale provided an between 45 and 65 pounds of nitrogen, 5.5 pounds of phosphorus, and 45 pounds of potassium (per acre).

 All in all, a well-managed rye or triticale crop can improve  soil health, water quality, and could become an important part of your feeding program.  We will keep you posted as we continue to look at these cover crops in Vermont.

More Reading:

 Aaron Gabriel’s winter rye/triticale results – Cornell Cooperative Extension

Winter triticale that was drilled into a pasture in September being rotationally grazed the following May.
Winter triticale that was drilled into a pasture in September being rotationally grazed the following May.

 Dr. Heather Darby’s 2012 Winter Rye Research – UVM Extension

 Dr. Heather Darby’s 2011 Winter Rye Planting Date Research – UVM Extension

 Dr. Heather Darby’s 2011 Winter Rye Seeding Rate Research – UVM Extension



Ins and Outs of Livestock Fence Systems

Claghorn and Hunt 007

In early May, Dave Kennard at Wellscroft Farm and Fence Systems in Harrisville, NH hosted a fantastic full day workshop covering all aspects of livestock fencing. It was an information filled day with lots of helpful hints and tips on topics such as proper grounding, choosing the right sized energizer, locating it in the right spot, how to ensure lightning protection, and the latest and greatest types of fence and gates. There was really something for everyone, with a brush up on the basics as well as advanced tips to fine tune an existing system.

Here are the 6 most common mistakes with electric fence that Dave outlined for us that day:

1. Improper grounding: One thing that can help ensure your fence is well grounded is to have enough ground rods in place. The rods should be in a line and at least 10 feet apart. Galvanized rods are preferred. How many do you need? A rule of thumb is to figure 3-6’ of ground rod per joule of energizer. So a 3J energizer could require up to 18 feet of ground rods depending on soil moisture and fence resistance. Your ground field should be at least 40 feet away from utility grounds.

2. Having the wrong sized or type of energizer: Energizers are either 110 V plug-in, battery, or solar powered. Their effectiveness is measured in joules. The size of the area that is fenced, the type of animal, and type of fence used will determine what size energizer is needed. They increase from small 0.5 joule units to 50 joules or more (and so does the cost). Choose one based not just on where you’re at right now, but where you might be a few years down the road, so that you don’t ‘outgrow’ it and have to buy a new one. It is recommended to install the energizer outside of buildings in a protected three sided enclosure.

3. Improper livestock training: Since electric fence is a psychological fence, not a physical one, animals must learn to respect it, rather than run through it. Most livestock when shocked for the first time will instinctively back up. That is, except for pigs! They will keep charging ahead. For pigs, you’ll want to train them to electric fence inside an enclosed area (such as a barnyard) which will give them a physical barrier as well.

4. Improper lightning and surge protection: Lightning can cause a voltage surge and damage the energizer if the unit is a plug-in type. If unplugging the fence is not an option before a big storm, plugging the unit into a 1,000 joule surge protector can help reduce the impact if a nearby utility wire is hit. Also, lightning can damage an energizer if the fence or an object near the fence is struck. High voltage will be carried along the fence wire and through the energizer on its way to the ground. Lightning choke/diverters can be installed at the start of the fence. For areas of 5 acres or more, additional ones can be installed with their own ground rods. The surge protector and the diverter each cost less than $15. Not a bad insurance policy for a several hundred dollar energizer.

5. Not monitoring the voltage and condition of the fence: Use a volt meter or fence tester to monitor your voltage. If the fence is not adequately charged, you can start troubleshooting where the problem lies. Some volt meters are also fault finders and can point you in the direction of the problem – a definite timesaver! Monitor your fence for poor connections (snapping sounds) and keep excess vegetation off the fence which can ground it out.

6. Not choosing the right type of fence: How many strands of high tensile wire do you need on your perimeter fence? For beef, you might need 2 or 3 strands. For goats, maybe 50 wires would hold them in? Just kidding! For temporary fences when making subdivisions, a single strand of polywire can do the trick for dairy cows, while sheep and chickens do well with electric netting.

Keeping these tips in mind can help minimize problems and keep both the animals and the people happy during the grazing season.