The greatest challenge with winter annual cereal forages for many producers is managing harvest timing to maximize quality with spring rainfall events that not only delay custom harvesters but also cause your perfectly timed harvest to come to a halt. One goal should be to harvest at least some of your summer annuals at the highest quality possible unless your operation only needs low-quality forage. Staging our forage plots in Fremont our cereal rye is currently at Feeks 9 but in Southern Ohio, it is at Feeks 10.1 needing to be harvested today.
Planted on the same day the four species we have been comparing flowered over a 3 week period. The four species we are comparing are cereal rye, triticale, barley, and wheat for yield and quality at an ideal harvest timing of Feeks 10, head in the boot to delayed at Feeks 10.5, flowering. Figure one shows the growth stages of small grains.
We have found differences in speed of maturity and in tonnage between species at the same maturity. On average most species put on half a ton more dry matter as they mature to Feeks 10.5 but triticale added over a ton of dry matter, figure 2 shows average dry matter yields. Cereal rye and triticale had a similar yield of around a 1.75 tons dry matter average at boot but had a low of .75 tons to over 3 tons per acre. The lowest-yielding location had lower tillers experiencing excessive winter and spring rainfall. At Feekes 10.5 triticale takes the lead in tonnage with an average of 2.75 tons and a high of 5 tons.
While tonnage is critical another important part of the risk management decision is how quality declines as the species matures, shown in figure 3. All species saw a similar decline in crude protein of about 2 percent with no significant difference in crude protein percentage between species, only between harvest dates. Neutral Detergent Fiber, NDF and Total Digestible Nutrients, TDN were a different story. These two nutrients moved inverse of each with TDN declining and NDF increasing between the two harvest timings, both of which lead to a decline in quality. TDN which is one measure of energy was the highest for wheat at both harvest timings. Harvesting at Feeks 10 had the highest TDN with all species declining when harvest was delayed to Feeks 10.5. Barley had the least quality decline of all species. Wheat stands out as having the greatest digestibility. This is followed by triticale and cereal rye at Feeks 10 with NDF increasing about 10 points as both matured.
Even when lower quality forage is needed plan to harvest some at prime quality and then accept them at the lower quality when the weather forces a delayed harvest. Otherwise, you may plan for medium quality and end up with all low quality straw like forage.