Alternatives available for winter grazing options

As planting season approaches producers might be asking themselves how the current weather situation will affect winter pastures and wondering about alternatives to the traditional cereal rye and wheat options.

Noble Foundation forage specialist James Rogers queried seed dealers in southern Oklahoma and North Texas and reports they don’t have seed available for winter pasture yet.

“Many are hesitant to book it in until they have some feel for the demand and weather,” he says. “They are scared of having seed on hand they will be unable to sell due to the dry weather.”

That said, Rogers says it appears the supply of wheat seed will be good, with prices running $10 to $11 per bushel, depending on variety. Rye prices now are $13 to $13.50 per bushel.

“Dealers feel like rye supplies may be tight, so if you want it you may need to get it early,” he says.

Noble forage specialists list perennial and annual ryegrass as possibilities for winter pasture. Annual ryegrass grazing can last through June in some years, but perennial varieties are more cold tolerant.

“The early (assumption) is that ryegrass seed prices will be down a little from last year, but I would not be surprised if that might change if folks switch from wheat to ryegrass,” Rogers says. “On traditional dual-purpose acres this probably will not happen, though.”

A cool-season perennial such as fescue is another alternative for winter pasture. Novel endophyte fescue varieties, which do not produce toxic effects in livestock, are gaining popularity. Two other benefits of novel fescue are the lack of annual establishment costs and the possibility of earlier fall forage production because grazing could begin with early fall rainfall. A couple of cautions from forage specialists, though: don’t plant fescue too early; wait until moisture conditions are right and temperatures have moderated and remember that there will be no fall forage production and only moderate spring grazing in the establishment year.

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