To Follow The Chopper With Cool Season Annuals

On September 15, 2020

To Follow The Chopper With Cool Season Annuals


Widespread drought conditions throughout the state have impacted this year’s corn silage yields. Extension Agronomist Dave Wilson and  Casey Guindon explain with an earlier than average harvest timing in many of these drought-stressed areas, there is an opportunity to plant some additional forage crops to help fill short feed bunks in the spring. Cool-season winter-annual small grains planted after corn silage harvest can be utilized as alternative forages and provide benefits to an integrated livestock-cropping system in several ways.


Winter annuals – such as wheat, triticale and rye – can be planted now and as soon as corn silage is off. No-till drilling helps move planting along. In Lancaster county and southern warmer counties, we can plant into early October. As we move up into the northern counties, we need to target getting those small grain forages seeded earlier, now in September as soon as the corn silage is off. Research has shown a positive linear relationship with early planting dates and yield. The earlier the winter annual was planted, the greater the yield the following spring. This has to do with the presence of fall growing degree days and its impact on tillering. More days for growth in the fall lead to more tillers in the fall which in turn leads to higher small grain forage tonnage in the spring.

If winter annuals will be utilized for forage, they should be planted at a higher rate than if intended for grain harvest. Wheat, rye, and triticale should be seeded at about 100-120 pounds per acre for forage production at ½” to 1 ½” deep. Soil fertility should be based on soil test recommendations and approximately 40 lbs./ac of P and 80 lbs./ac of K should be applied at planting. For optimum forage accumulation, N will encourage above-ground plant growth, but excessive N application in the fall will reduce root growth and the plant’s ability to over-winter. Therefore, 1/3 of the crop’s N needs should be applied in the early fall (approximately 30-40 lbs./ac), with the remaining 2/3 of the N requirements top dressed in the spring at green up time. Cool-season annuals also respond to N fertilization with increased crude protein levels, so the addition of nitrogen to the crop will result in improved forage quality at the time of harvest.


Winter annual harvest timing should be dependent on the nutritional needs of the livestock to which the forage will be fed. At the flag leaf stage, protein content and digestibility will be greater (roughly 14-16% and 65-75%, respectively) and better match the needs of high-producing livestock such as growing stock or livestock in their third trimester of gestation. However, as the forage matures into the boot stage and beyond then lignin increases and the protein levels and digestibility decline (roughly 10-14% and 50-60%, respectively) depending on stage of development, causing the forage to be a more suitable feed for mature beef cows or dairy heifers.


Winter cereal rye typically heads out the earliest and has the shortest window to harvest for optimum quality. When it is ready to harvest, it typically comes fast. Triticale and wheat have later heading dates and give wider windows to harvest for optimum forage quality in spring. On large acreages you can split the drilling to both some winter rye and some winter triticale or wheat. This practice hedges and spreads out harvest dates by spreading out the respective heading dates. This practice can help us in the spring to manage to get optimum forage quality and spread out the timing of harvest.


Utilizing small grain forages in a rotation after corn silage takes advantage of the entire growing season with growth of these small grains over winter and into early spring. It takes a higher degree of management and the timing of planting and harvest is critical. Proper management of winter-annual small grain forages can provide the addition of high quality, high yield forages to a farming operation to add to the silo or the bunk in the spring. With this practice overall we can increase the tonnage per acre of silage produced for the operation.  In addition, this winter annual small grain forage provides us soil health benefits, keeping our soil covered over winter and adds additional root organic matter to the soil, which benefits the field in the long term.


To Stay Safe During Harvest

With the urgency felt by farm families during the fall season, Extension Farm Safety Specialist Dennis Murphy provides these  safety reminders.


Always use a tractor equipped with a a rollover protective structure ROPS when possible. Keep your equipment in good condition and check to ensure all guards are properly positioned. Check to make sure that you have the recommended lighting on your tractor and implements especially when traveling in the early mornings or evenings.

Everyone is rushing to get that last field harvested and then the corn harvester gets plugged. Even though you are in a hurry to get done, you must always turn off the tractor before you get off the tractor to check or unclog any piece of equipment.


During the harvest time, it is very easy for farm family members to not get adequate rest, take breaks, and even eat meals. In order for you to remain alert during harvest, you cannot sacrifice rest and nutrition. When doing fieldwork, take short breaks throughout the day to get out of the tractor to stretch. Stay hydrated and pack nutritious snacks or meals so that you have energy to complete the day’s work.

When it is crunch time during harvest, a person may sometimes accept help from a neighbor, family member, or friend. However, it is important for you to provide that person with farm safety training related to the task that they will be helping with on the farm.

Do not ignore your health during the harvest season. As hard as it might be, try to get adequate sleep which will help you rejuvenate from a hard day and prepare you for the next busy day.

During chopping, a person can get on and off the tractor numerous times to hitch and unhitch wagons. Consider using a hitching system to reduce the number of time you need to get on and off the tractor. If it is unavoidable, maintain 3 points of contact when getting on or off the tractor and avoid jumping off of the tractor or tractor steps to improve your safety and to protect your joints over time.

Use personal protective equipment such as ear plugs, gloves, and safety glasses when appropriate.

Check to make sure that you have the recommended lighting on your tractor and implements especially when traveling in the early mornings or evenings. When possible, avoid traveling on roadways during the busy morning and evening commute times. Use an escort vehicle when necessary.

Do your part to make this a safe and healthy harvest season!

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