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Cool season annual grasses provide high-quality forage at a time that warm season forages are dormant, low in crude protein and high in fiber. Although tall fescue grows at the same time of year as most of our small grains, forage intake and animal performance of tall fescue is much lower than with annuals because of the toxicity of tall fescue in most of the acreage in Arkansas (unless novel endophyte tall fescue has been planted!). Small grains, such as rye (cereal rye not annual ryegrass) and wheat grow well in the fall and early winter, and are extremely productive in the spring. Annual ryegrass is not as productive in the fall and winter, but is also extremely productive in the spring. Oats are very productive, but are not cold tolerant and can have stand losses due to freeze damage most years in northern Arkansas and some years in southern Arkansas. Cool season annuals provide excellent forage for growing stocker calves and developing replacement heifers and can be an excellent supplement for mature cows by limit grazing a few hours a day or for several hours on alternating days.

Our recommendations are to plant a mixture of 100-120 pounds of small grain (cereal rye or wheat) and 20-25 pounds of annual ryegrass in the fall. This should be done in early to mid-September in crop fields or in early to mid-October when inter-seeding into warm-season grass sod. After cool-season annuals are planted, cattle should be kept off the pastures until the annuals are at least 6-8 inches tall. In most years, inter-seeded cool season annuals have enough forage growth for grazing to start in late November or early December, while cool season annuals planted in crop fields can be grazed in late October or early November. When spring forage growth patterns begin, stocking rate can be increase to two calves per acre until mid-May. In this system, small grains provide forage from November to May, while the annual ryegrass will provide forage from March to mid-May (or sometimes early June). If forage is intended for use by spring calving mature cows, later planting dates can be considered because the high quality forage is not necessary until later in the year.

For this system to work, fertilizer needs to be supplied to these pastures to drive forage growth. Soil test results should be used to determine the optimal rate of phosphorus and potassium, and nitrogen fertilizer should be supplied in the fall at a rate of about 50 pounds of actual nitrogen per acre. Clover, vetch or other legumes may be helpful for spring grazing, but should not be relied on to supply nitrogen for fall growth. Although production expenses (total pasture cost of $150 per acre) may be considerable, the productivity of these annual pastures provide for gains costing around $.35 per pound.

For more information regarding utilizing cool-season annual grasses, contact Jimmy Driggers, county extension agent, staff chair, at 501-623-6841 or email:


Interested in joining an existing Extension Homemakers Club? EHC is the largest volunteer organization in the state. For information, call 623-6841 or email Jessica Vincent at

Master Gardeners

If interested in becoming a Master Gardener and would like information, the public is welcome to attend their monthly meeting at 1 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month at Lake Valley Community Church; call the Extension office at 623-6841; or email Allen Bates at


There are 4-H clubs for Garland County youths who are 5 to 19 years old. For information, call the Extension Office or email Linda Bates at

Society on 11/27/2017

Print Headline: Utilizing cool-season annual grasses

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