During the winter and early spring when spring and summer grasses are dormant, cattle must be fed. Producers can put out hay or feed manufactured from grain, or they can plant small grains like wheat, oats, or rye in their pastures for grazing. Clark Neely is a Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Small Grains and Oil Seed Specialist.
“It is generally cheaper to have cattle graze small grains rather than either stockpiled pasture or feed them, supplement with hay or grain or what have you, so if you’ve got the moisture and can get a good stand it is probably going to be a cheaper option for you to maintain your cattle over the winter.”
Clark says that generally, small grains are going to be a higher quality forage.
“When I say that I mean they generally have higher protein and higher digestibility, lower fiber content, so cattle are able to use them more efficiently than your warm season grasses.”
But, of course, there’s always a weather risk.
“You may sink some costs into it and you’re not guaranteed you’re going to get a crop if it doesn’t rain. You could put fertilizer out there and seed out there and nothing come up, so you do run that risk.”
And diseases can plague any crop.
“Now there are fungicides available out there but I think most guys aren’t applying fungicides if they’re grazing it. So that is something, you could lose it especially in east and south Texas where we have a humid climate.”
But, if the stars line up right, winter grasses can provide cattle with the highest quality forage they’ll get all year.
“If you’ve got a wet fall and you get it planted in September, you could potentially be putting cattle out in November, certainly by December you could be getting some really good grazing, and if you manage it right you could be grazing it all winter through, if you’re grazing it out you should have grazing through April for sure. If you’ve got rye grass maybe stretch that into May.”
So if you’re driving in areas with lush green pastures this winter and early spring you’ll know it’s there to help a rancher put beef on your table.