Things to Consider When Grazing Cattle on Wheat

Kansas State University agronomist Jim Shroyer gives helpful advice on what to consider before turning your cattle out on wheat.

Published on: Nov 1, 2005

Producers who want to use their wheat for pasture this fall have decisions to make that will affect both the forage production and ultimate grain yield potential of the wheat, says Kansas State University agronomist Jim Shroyer.

"Wheat intended for pasture should have been seeded at a high rate – about 120 pounds of seed per acre – and planted early," says Shroyer, who is the agronomy state leader for K-State Research and Extension. "Wheat for pasture has to be planted earlier than the optimal dates for grain-only production, about two to three weeks before the Hessian-fly free date."

That makes the wheat planted for pasture more susceptible to damage from Hessian flies, early-season armyworms and flea beetles, and wheat streak mosaic, he says. Still, unless fall is unusually warm late into the season, forage production simply won't be sufficient for pasturing cattle if it's not planted early.

"Cattle should not be put onto wheat pasture until there is crown root development to anchor the plants," Shroyer says. "Don't just look at top growth and assume that if the wheat is tillered, the crown roots have developed. Sometimes that's not the case. Check some plants to make sure there is good root development."

Several other things producers should consider include:

·        Cattle should not be able to pull the plants out of the ground as they graze. In general, there should be 6 to 12 inches of top growth before pasturing wheat, but the true test of when the wheat is ready is to see if crown roots have developed enough that the wheat is hard to pull out of the ground.

·        Plan to use extra nitrogen on the wheat. Cattle remove N in the wheat forage, so it's not uncommon to see N deficiencies in wheat after cattle have been removed. For every 100 pounds per acre of animal gain, producers should apply another 40 pounds per acre of N in order to maintain grain yields.

·        Use split applications of N, with part of the N going on in early fall and part applied as soon as the cattle are pulled off in the late winter or early spring.

·        Have a dry area available to move the cattle onto when the fields get wet. This will help limit soil compaction problems.