Grazing of forage cereals

How to successfully graze forage cereals

Feed Management
ANCHORED: Before grazing, it is important to check the plants have anchored and have grown secondary roots.

ANCHORED: Before grazing, it is important to check the plants have anchored and have grown secondary roots.

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Cereals have been gaining popularity by dairy farmers for use as a forage crop. The major reason is they generally yield higher than ryegrass when soil moisture is limited.

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Cereals have been gaining popularity by dairy farmers for use as a forage crop. The major reason is they generally yield higher than ryegrass when soil moisture is limited.

Cereals should generally be grazed when at 20-25 centimetres high for upright standing varieties, and 10-15cm high for flat/prone varieties.

A good rule of thumb is stock should enter at gumboot height and be removed at work-boot height.

Before grazing, it is important to check the plants have anchored and have grown secondary roots.

To check this has occurred, use the 'pluck and twist'.

This can be achieved by grabbing the plant at the target grazing height then pull and twist.

If it breaks off, the forage has an advanced enough root system for grazing.

If the plant is pulled out of the ground the forage is not ready to graze as the plants will be pulled reducing plant density and future yield.

The 'pluck and twist' test should be conducted at multiple locations across the paddock, therefore representative of the whole grazing area.

After grazing, cereals like ryegrass need a residual amount of dry matter to allow for recovery.

The paddocks should be grazed down to 10-15cm for upright standing varieties and 5cm for flat varieties to ensure sufficient residual for regrowth.

Strip or rotationally grazing cereals is preferred as it allows the plant to re-energise.

Set stocking can lead to crops being overgrazed and unable to recover carbohydrate stores, which results in bare patches.

If the cereal is going to be harvested for fodder, grazing must finish before the growing point or seed head starts moving up the stem.

This process is called jointing.

The first visible indication is the occurrence of first node stage when the node is visible and 'feelable' 1-2cm above the ground.

This occurs on the main stem first, which in a grazed paddock will be the fattest of the tillers. Grazing off this node will stop the growth of this tiller and decrease the amount of fodder that is available in spring.

In summary

  • Start grazing at 20-25cm high for upright standing varieties and 10-15cm for flat varieties.
  • Assess by using the 'pluck and twist' test.
  • Strip graze rather than set stock.
  • Graze down to 10-15cm for standing upright varieties and 5cm for flat varieties to ensure sufficient residual for regrowth. Avoid overgrazing as it will reduce yield and result in increased weeds.
  • If harvesting for fodder stop grazing before the growing point begins to move up the stem. The visible indication of this stage is a visible and 'feelable' swelling, 1-2cm off the ground in the main stem.
  • A good rule of thumb is stock should enter at gumboot height and be removed at work-boot height.

For information about Agriculture Victoria support to dairy farmers preparing for dry seasonal conditions, contact Brett Davidson on (03) 5833 5206 or at agriculture.vic.gov.au/dryseasons.

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