Removing stock from grazing cereals

Ag Advice - August 2020

Clare Edwards - Senior Land Services Officer, Pastures

Many producers took the opportunity to sow grazing cereals this year. The recent seasonal conditions have produced substantial paddock feed as well as good growth on our forage cereals.

With reduced livestock numbers following the drought, many producers are now looking for options for their forage cereals. Some options include fodder conservation (hay and or silage), using the forages for lambing/calving animals or ‘locking up’ the areas for grain.

There are cases of forage crops that were sown early (and, in some cases, not the most appropriate variety) going to seedhead now. There are also cases of crops ‘running’ early and already at the heading stage. There is always a risk of frost damage at this stage.

Some forage varieties have a strong winter habit (such as Blackbutt and Nile) with head initiation not occurring until there has been exposure to periods of cold temperature. This is known as vernalisation. Other forage varieties may be more semi-winter types and need only a short cold temperature exposure to initiate heading.

The argument on when to remove stock is a conflict of a calendar date versus plant growth stage. For example, August is the month when most producers remove livestock from any cereal crops which are to be taken through for grain production (dual purpose cereals). However, plant stage is the preferred method as this will change depending on season.

It is recommended that livestock be removed by growth stage Z31. This can be determined by observing when the first node is 1cm or more above the base of the shoot and the gap between the first node and the second is less than 2cm. This year, some forage crops on the slopes have already gone past the Z31 stage.

It is important to examine a number of plants across the paddock. Look at the plant for signs of stem elongation and the presence of the developing head. Inspect the main stem/tiller by slicing the tiller in half longitudinally from the base to the tip. This will expose the height of the developing head.

Timing the removal of livestock is critical. Removing them too late can result in low grain yields and decreased grain quality. There will be less plant material to supply the developing head due to over grazing the tillers and/or delaying crop maturity by pushing back flowering and grain fill into the hotter and dryer part of the season.

Removing them too early is less of a concern, but you need to consider the underutilisation of the crop for livestock production against a slightly extra grain production or yield.  

It has been an amazing season for some of these forage crops.  We have received reports of early-sown crops being grazed as early as March and of crops producing extraordinary amounts of green feed.

It is important to assess your forage crops now and to make the decisions on fodder conservation, grazing regimes for spring or the potential for grain recovery.

Don’t forget the Local Land Services ‘Let’s talk Silage’ seminar series.

Related news

Related information