Cereal Forages: What's New in Genetics and Management?
Small grain silages, such as wheat, oat, rye, barley or triticale (wheat-rye hybrid), used in double cropping programs are becoming increasingly popular as a forage source, especially for young stock. In general, cereals should be harvested in the milk- to soft-dough stage if the goal is to maximize the yield of energy per acre. As small grains mature from flag to boot to head to flower to milk to dough stages, the protein level drops while yield and energy value typically increase. Dairy producers can maximize protein content by harvesting small grains in the late flag leaf to early boot stage. While the boot stage of maturity produces the highest "bite for bite" nutrient value, dry matter yields are considerably reduced. Producers desiring the highest quality forage are cutting at this stage of maturity. The milk stage is less desirable than the early dough stage as it is less palatable and studies indicate animal performance may be reduced. The early dough stage of maturity produces maximum energy per acre and is the most common maturity for harvest.
If considerable acres of small grain are to be harvested, it is recommended to begin harvest at milk stage to avoid harvesting past the dough stage of maturity. The following guidelines are commonly used as to when to harvest specific cereals: 1) wheat and barley - soft dough stage (direct chop), 2) oats - boot to early heading (wilted), 3) rye - boot stage (wilted) and 4) triticale - flag leaf fully emerged but no head (wilted) (Kilcer, 2010). Moisture levels in the range of 60-70% are best for ensiling small grain silage. Small grain silages with less than 60% moisture are difficult to pack, and excessive heating and nutrient losses can occur. Recommended length of cut is ¼-3/8 inch to facilitate packing and reduce oxygen being carried in with hollow stems in later harvested cereals.