Planting winter rye to extend the grazing season
Winter rye is one of the most winter-hardy field crops and can be used to extend the grazing season or be fed as a green chop.
This summer more than 60 percent of the U.S. has been affected by severe drought and Michigan is no exception. Some farmers are already experiencing feed shortage and one of the options to reduce the feed cost would be planting winter rye in August. Winter rye can be easily established and seeds can be purchased at local supply stores. It can be grazed or green-chopped again next spring. Below is a list of planting tips and management practices for winter rye:
- Site selection: Rye can be grown best on fertile, light-loamy or sandy soils although winter rye can be grown in clay soils as well.
- Planting: Winter rye can be planted by drilling into conventionally tilled fields or with no-till.
- Soil fertility: Optimum soil pH to grow winter rye ranges from 6.0 to 7.0. Soil Phosphorous and Potassium should be applied based on soil test results. Fifty pounds of nitrogen needs to be applied per acre at planting and another 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre would be recommended at green-up next spring.
- Seeding rates: Seeding rates can be varied depending on planting methods. For no-till planting, seeding rates range between 90 - 120 pounds per acre and for drilling 80 - 100 pounds per acre.
- Rye for grazing: Since rye is a cool-season annual crop, it will grow in cool temperature until air temperature drops to 39 degrees F. In the fall, rye can be grazed when it is six inches tall and it’s important to remove livestock when three to four inches of growth remain.
Managed rotational grazing or strip grazing will help maintain good stands of rye to overwinter and regrow next spring. Winter rye is the earliest of the small grains to break dormancy and thus this can result in very early spring grazing before other cool-season grasses or small grains start to be grazed. When the soil is wet in the fall, rye stands can be damaged by overgrazing. Thus, it’s important not to overgraze the newly seeded rye stands in the fall.
- MSU Extension’s Drought Resources