Dale Watson
Commercial Agriculture Beef and Livestock Specialist
University of Missouri Extension




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Please send your comments and sund suggestions to Dale Watson, Commercial Agriculture Beef and Livestock Specialist, University of Missouri Extension, 111 N. Mason, Carrollton, MO 64633, call 660-542-1792, or send messages by e-mail to: watsond@missouri.edu.
For the Week of
April 27, 2000

Wheat for Roughage

The question regarding harvesting wheat for roughage instead of for grain has been discussed with a number of producers. Although many midwest producers do not produce wheat on a large scale, it is a very valuable cover crop for establishing new seeding. Planting wheat in the fall reduces the potential for soil erosion throughout the winter and early spring. Wheat also offers various opportunities for harvesting the following year.

Regardless of the method used for harvesting as forage, one very important consideration to keep in mind is the stage of development and its relationship to having quality forage after harvest. Wheat is one crop that deteriorates very rapidly as the plant matures. If wheat is cut too late, the protein and energy values will be low. When the wheat plant matures from the early vegetative stage to the late head stage, both the protein and energy values will be reduced by one half. I know of no other forage that reduces in nutritional value as rapidly as wheat. The optimum time to harvest wheat is between the boot and early head stage of plant development. This period lasts only about one week. Harvesting between these stages of plant development helps ensure nutritional quality.

Wheat provides excellent forage for both fall and spring pastures. Many producers utilize this crop for early grazing and then plant other crops. This method provides an excellent source of highly nutritious feed, but mineral supplementation needs to be maintained -- especially magnesium -- to assist with reducing problems with tetanus.

Harvesting as balage is one method that has been successfully used by several producers. Harvesting as balage also removes some of the risk from inclement weather conditions. Harvesting at a 35 to 50 percent dry matter condition is much easier to achieve compared to15 to 18 percent dry matter content for baling as hay. This method also provides the opportunity for double cropping with soybeans. One caution that must be considered is the nutrient removal from the soil when this combination of crops is grown.

If you prefer to harvest wheat as hay, the method of storage needs to be considered. Storing forage outside for an additional 45 to 60 days increases the possibility of exposing these large packages to additional rainfall. Inside storage or covering with some type of weather-repellant cover will pay dividends and reduce spoilage from the weather.

Wheat serves as an excellent cover crop for reducing soil erosion and can be utilized as forage if it is harvested in the proper state of plant development. Considering the price of wheat, combinations of utilizing this crop is advantageous for many producers.

University of Missouri ExtensionDale's Country Trails - April 27, 2000
http://outreach.missouri.edu/agconnection/DCT/CT042700.html -- Revised: April 20, 2004