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University of Minnesota Extension

Harvesting small grains for forage

Minnesota small grain crops can provide excellent-quality forage, although the growth stage at cutting impacts both quality and quantity.

Impact of growth stage at harvest

University of Minnesota research found that quality, crude protein and in-vitro digestible dry matter is highest at the boot stage, when the forage yield is 38 to 42 percent of that at the dough stage.

This is conveyed in Tables 1 through 3, which shows spring-seeded small grain species grown in Minnesota. Grains were fertilized with 75 pounds per acre of added nitrogen and weren’t planted as companion crops.

Removing small grains at the boot stage allows for double-cropping with another annual, such as sudangrass, rape or ryegrass. In the study, double-cropping barley and sudangrass produced 4.9 tons of dry matter per acre when barley was harvested at the boot stage (1.7 tons from barley) followed by grazing Trudan sudangrass for 41 days (mid-August through September). Double-cropping offers reasonable yields of high-quality forage, but input costs can be higher.


Harvesting oats for silage

Many farmers grow oats as a companion crop with forage seedlings. Silage made from these oats can supply good quality feed for livestock. Oat silage quality is influenced by the stage of maturity at harvest and the material’s moisture level.

Harvesting oats early for hay or silage improves the legume establishment process. This is because, during the seeding year, oats compete with the legume for moisture and essential nutrients.

Early harvest also prevents lodging and smothering problems later in the growing season. The silage harvest process eliminates problems related to straw removal and volunteer oats from shattered seed heads.

Strategies for success

You’ll get the best oat silage if you:

  • Select a proper variety.
  • Use a high-fertility program.
  • Cut at late milk or early dough stage.
  • Wilt if cut early to reduce moisture.
  • Chop short.
  • Pack well and cover in silo.

Vern Hofmann, emeritus agricultural engineer, North Dakota State University and Jochum Wiersma, Extension agronomist

Reviewed in 2018

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