Avoiding Grain Loss When Grazing Wheat
You planted wheat with hopes of capitalizing on high prices next summer but also would like to take advantage of its grazing potential. How should you manage the grazing?
Most important is to avoid grazing when soil is wet or soft to limit trampling. This might be accomplished best by having an adjacent pasture or corn stalk field to turn animals into whenever the ground gets wet. If you can adjust your animals so they only graze wheat when it’s dry, then the next step is to avoid grazing too severely. Make sure the animals don’t graze the wheat any shorter than about three inches in height. Use this three-inch guideline both for fall and for spring grazing. This will enable your wheat plants to always have enough leaf area and tillers to use sunlight to support plant growth and health.
Also be sure you have provided adequate fertility for the wheat crop. Plants that are starved for nutrients will yield even less if they also are stressed by grazing.
Finally, stop grazing next spring as soon as wheat plants begin to joint. Jointing occurs when plant stems begin to elongate and form nodes, or thickened areas, on the stems. This usually happens sometime in April in Nebraska, but temperature, fertility, and variety will affect the exact date each year. Protect a small area from grazing so you can easily examine plants to determine for sure when jointing occurs in your field.
Follow these guidelines and you, too, can have your grain and a pasture, too.
[October 31st, 2007]
Dr. Bruce Anderson, Professor of Agronomy
Agronomy & Horticulture, University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Lincoln, NE