Are you in need of additional feed? It’s time to think about cool season annuals.

Hot, dry conditions this season have made for some nice hay making weather, but poor hay and pasture yields. Many farmers are already looking at having to feed some of the stored forages they’d typically feed this winter to get by. Furthermore, as much of our region is experiencing this droughty weather, finding quality stored feed this fall or winter will likely be challenging and costly.

Planting cool season annuals such as annual ryegrass, oats, pea, winter grains, and brassicas, can help extend the grazing season, give perennial pastures a rest, and help ensure your stored feed stocks are adequate. Cool season annuals can be both harvested for storage and grazed in the late fall. The sooner you plant cool season annuals, the more time they will have to establish and produce biomass. In Vermont, this typically means planting these around mid-August.

Annual Ryegrass

Annual ryegrass is a fantastic fall forage. It establishes quickly and is very palatable for grazing. Annual ryegrass can produce about 0.5 ton of dry matter per acre in our region if sown by late August. The seed is typically quite inexpensive compared to winter grains or brassicas making it a very affordable way to boost fall grazing and/or feed stores. Annual ryegrass can be drilled at a rate of 20 to 30 pounds per acre at a depth of ¼ to ½ inch.

Cereal Grains – Winter grains are also great options for fall forage. Winter triticale, wheat, and rye can produce large quantities of biomass in the fall prior to going into dormancy for the winter. They can also provide early spring forage that can be harvested or grazed prior to planting corn or soybeans. Oats are another annual forage option. They can also be planted in the fall but will winterkill in northern New England. Forage specific varieties are available. These tend to have wider, more palatable leaves but also tend to be more expensive than grain varieties.

Grains may be seeded with a grain drill into a well-prepared seed bed or seeded with a no-till drill at a rate of 125 to 150 pounds at a depth of about 1 inch. Plant these winter grains as early as possible to maximize fall forage production. Grains planted later than mid-September will not yield much, if any, forage this fall. For more information on managing winter grains for forage see the following fact sheet:

Brassicas – Forage brassicas, such as turnips, kales, and radishes, can provide plenty of high quality fall forage. They may be seeded alone or in combination with other annuals, and they can yield 1500 to 2000 pounds of dry matter per acre. Brassicas are highly digestible and therefore, need to be grazed with caution to avoid bloating. Animals should only be allowed to graze brassicas for short periods of time and given adequate fiber. Brassicas can be drilled at a rate of about 6 pounds per acre at a depth of ¼ to ½ inch. 

Other Species and Mixtures – Forage peas can also provide significant biomass and quality forage with high protein and fiber digestibility. Forage peas grow more upright and are more productive than winter peas. However, they tend to do best in combination with a taller grass they can hold on to like oats. Oat/pea mixtures grow very rapidly and can produce 1.5-2.0 tons of dry matter per acre. The addition of the peas can decrease the overall fiber content, increase protein, and increase fiber digestibility and palatability. However, it will only increase to a point and the forage pea seed can be costly so don’t overdo it! Decent yield and quality can be obtained using a 50:50 or 60:40 oat:pea mixture seeded at about 100 lbs per acre and a depth of 1-1.5”. Whenever planting legumes, don’t forget the inoculant for optimal N fixation.

Brassicas can also be used in combination with cereal grains or annual ryegrass and, like forage peas, will increase the fiber digestibility of the mixture. Brassica seed is very small, so only a few pounds are needed per acre when mixing with grasses.

Legumes such as clovers and vetches can also be included in mixtures, however they tend to grow more slowly than the other species mentioned and therefore won’t provide a lot of forage this fall. Sometimes they may be added into other cover crop mixtures intended to overwinter and growth the following season. Consider your goals and if these fit into your system before you add the extra expense to your forage mixture.

For More Information – For current research on using cool season annual forages, see our recent reports:

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