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My success with ryegrass.

Over the years enough people have asked me about my ryegrass (RG) production and grazing procedures that I have decided to prepare this paper detailing the only methods that I consider to be worthwhile.

Very well-prepared seedbed

Start plowing and discing in early September. Plow six inches deep, then disc until 95 percent of the vegetation is dead and buried.

Plant about September 15-20. Broadcast 300 pounds per acre (PPA) of 6-24-24 and 50 PPA of RG seed. Seed may be 100 percent Marshall or 50/50 Marshall/Gulf. Surrey and Jackson may be better varieties. Check their price and availability. Clover will not survive in this high rate of RG seeding.

Cultipack immediately and hope for rain. Watch for army worms.

When the RG is two to four inches tall, broadcast 200 PPA of urea and hope for rain. Continue worm watch until cool weather.

Add another 200 PPA of urea in mid-to-late February after the weather has warmed up pretty well.


If it rains soon after seeding and again after the first urea application, the RG will be 10-12 inches tall and ready for grazing by about November 1 and for nearly seven months thereafter.

Assuming the cattle are in good condition and internal parasites are under control at the start of the RG season, two hours per day of lush RG grazing will meet the nutritional needs of most animals. The exception is those cows with nursing calves which need two hours morning and evening. Grazing time must be limited to two hours in order to prevent unnecessary trampling.

Too many people claim they can't use timed grazing because of their regular job. The truth is that all that is required is to have a family member or neighbor open the gate two hours before they get home.

Controlled grazing with portable electric polywire fencing should (must) also be used to conserve grass by minimizing trampling. This is done by allowing the cattle to have access only to a very small acreage during each graze to prevent them from wandering aimlessly about and ruining forage. In general the cattle should be allowed into a temporarily fenced portion of the RG pasture, which contains no more grass than they can consume in two, two-hour daily grazes. When this area is completely grazed, relocate the electric fence wire(s) to prohibit continued access and offer them a fresh plot the next day.

Unpreventable trampling during the daily two-hour graze is a problem during wet weather, but the RG planting rate of 50 PPA moderates the damage satisfactorily. I graze every day regardless of the weather or soil conditions.

I do wait until the sun has thawed the frozen RG before I graze after a frost or freeze. However, this "rule" must be suspended on days when the temperature remains below freezing.

Finally, in March, when it is obvious that spring has arrived and the RG growth is exceeding consumption, turn cow/calf pairs (only) onto it 24 hours per day. By late March there should be sufficient growth for all animals except pregnant cows to graze 24 hours per day.

Perhaps a word about calving difficulties with cows wintered on lush RG would be appropriate. It has never been a problem for me because I limit pregnant cows to two hours per day of RG grazing, and try to use common sense in initial breeding age/weight and in sire selection. No one should have more than an occasional problem if he follows similar guidelines.

Drill planting

RG may also be cross drilled (opposite directions) at about 30-35 total PPA of seed whenever (September-December) the last grazing of the warm-season grasses is complete (grazed closely). Obviously the earlier the planting the better. Do not plant the Gulf variety after about October 20, or any variety after about December 20. Clover seeding is a recommended addition to this planting method.

Do not fertilize until after a heavy frost or freeze has made the warm-season grasses dormant. Apply a balanced fertilizer (including N) at this time. I use 350 PPA of 16-16-16.

Top dress with 50-l50 PPA of urea in late February. The actual amount of urea required is a guess based on the amount of clover in the stand and on your anticipated forage needs for the rest of the RG grazing season.

The time of first grazing and the total forage production of this method cannot be predicted. In general this procedure seems to produce no more than about half the amount of forage that the well-prepared seed bed method does even though the expenditures for seed and fertilizer can be nearly as high. However, since a person cannot plow every acre he owns in early September, this planting method is a very useful one.

Use timed and controlled grazing as previously described.

Make sure that all of the RG is removed before early May so that the warm-season grasses will not be stunted too badly.

Cost factors

If you calculate the total per acre costs of the two planting methods described above, you may feel faint. However, if you could honestly and accurately calculate the cost of wintering cattle on hay (taking into account its normally dubious quality and all production costs including machinery), you might feel deathly ill. RG may be expensive, but at least the quality is there, which is more than can be said for the typical hay bale, which is all-too-often round and stored outside. I think that hay is one of the most expensive things that you can feed a cow. Animal-harvested forage means no machinery and minimal labor.

Despite what some inexperienced graziers may suggest, absolutely no hay for feed is required to winter cattle as long as two hours per day (or two hours twice per day for lactating cows) of plentiful RG are available. As of the winter of 1992/1993 I have had six winters of successful RG grazing with no hay or feed produced, purchased, or fed.
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Author:Boggs, Frank, Jr.
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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