Cereal rye cover crop can stretch your spring feed supply

Cereal rye as a cover crop can help the soil as well as feeding livestock.

Planting cover crops has many advantages, especially to livestock producers. Cover crops add organic matter to the soil, reduce soil erosion, suppress weeds and capture and hold valuable manure nutrients. Cereal rye is a favorite fall cover crop for producers to use due to its hardiness and ease of growing.

In addition to those benefits, rye as a spring silage crop can also be advantageous to cattle and dairy producers. Planted in the fall, the rye germinates and grows at low fall temperatures; it will resume growth in the spring when temperatures rise above 38 degrees. By spring, the farmer can decide if they choose to kill off the rye or let it continue to grow to harvest as silage. As the price of corn for feed continues to rise, so does the value of corn silage and other feeds that can replace it, like rye silage. For many years, using a value of $25 to $30/per ton corn silage has been the norm. But with today’s feed prices, excellent corn silage is easily worth $65.

What is the value of rye silage?

A good rule of thumb is good rye silage has about 75% of the energy value of corn silage. Both silages should have similar dry matter content, so 75% of $65 = $48.75/ton as fed value of rye silage. Considering that the average rye silage yield from a fall seeded field is between 6 and 7 wet tons per acre, the rye cover crop could have a feed value of over $315/acre. Rye silage is higher in fiber and lower in starch than corn silage, and may not fit into a lactating cow diet. But rye silage can fit nicely into a heifer or dry cow diet, and “stretch” the corn silage supply for the lactating herd. (Note: rye silage is higher in potassium and should not be fed to close-up cows). Rye silage also has higher protein levels than corn silage, which can decrease the need for added protein in the diet.

Harvesting rye for silage can be tricky. Fields can’t be too wet to harvest. The boot stage is optimum for feed value but only lasts a few days. Feed quality decreases as the rye matures. But if harvested properly, the rye silage can stretch your feed dollars.

There is one more benefit to harvesting rye cover crops as silage in the spring. If soil P levels are high, the rye silage can draw off around 40 pounds of additional P2O5 per acre. This can be helpful to maintaining or decreasing soil P levels even while applying manure by matching nutrient removal with application rates.

Planting cereal rye as a fall cover crop after corn harvest has a multitude of benefits. For more information on selecting and seeding cover crops, please visit www.covercrops.msu.edu

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