Still time to seed some triticale for the fall


Those last weeks of winter feeding always seem to drag. There’s so much else to do, feed reserves may be looking tight, especially in years like this one, when the grass is late and slow. And, every day feeding in a corral whether it’s hay, greenfeed or silage, costs twice as much as a day of grazing.

But what’s the best choice to keep cattle out of the corral a bit longer? Triticale seems to be the best option for a lot of situations.

“Triticale makes awesome swath grazing,” says Grey Wooded Forage Association grazing expert, Albert Kuipers. “It yields great, there are no problems with it and cattle love it – even though it looks coarse, they clean it up very well. I’ve seen the grain stay in the head through the winter, where the grain from other cereals is on the ground. That’s a lot of energy going into a cow’s stomach, keeping her warm and well-nourished instead of being wasted.”

Agriculture Canada forage researcher, Vern Baron, agrees. Both winter and spring triticale are clear winners in forage production, with winter and summer averaging over 14.3 tonnes per hectare cut as silage compared to 11 or 11.5 tonnes for barley silage at Lacombe. Yields are even higher with newer varieties such as Bunker, which is very tolerant of excess rain. Barley has more energy and higher digestibility, but triticale delivers more grazing days.

Triticale also fits better with swathing in September, ideal for swath grazing. Most crop yields drop with delays in seeding, but forage triticale doesn’t follow that pattern. In central Alberta, delaying seeding from May 10th to the first week of June increased triticale yields by about 10%. Even delaying seeding until June 23rd did not cut yields or carrying capacity. The same seeding delay cut barley carrying capacity by a third.

Even those figures don’t show the real cost of choosing barley for swath grazing. If you want to swath in September, seeding time may be the end of June. If triticale’s long awns are a concern, some newer varieties have reduced awns.

Controlling the cattle is more challenging in winter, and it seems everyone has their own answer. Anchoring posts in buckets of rocks or ice is popular, and quite a few people use a cordless drill with a masonry bit. Kuipers, who mentors newer graziers, likes the ease and speed of using tumble wheels but not their relatively high cost and fragility. And bucket fence-post anchors quickly lose their appeal if you have any bucket-trained animals, he says.

Corn is finding a niche in many areas, even in northern Alberta. At those latitudes long, warm days compensate to some extent for their short growing season. In deep snow country it isn’t simply a matter of balancing the cost of growing corn against the huge biomass it produces, they add in the benefit of grazing through their early snows.  Morgan Hobin at Peace Country Beef says they’re usually able to graze the standing crop until December, a couple of months after the snow gets too deep for swath grazing. She estimates about 5% of their members grow low-heat unit corn varieties for late season grazing.

At the other end of the province, under irrigation, corn can become mature enough to cause digestive upsets in cows. Sorghum-sudan grass produces similar biomass, but has less starch. Millets can fit too, where rapid growth and efficient water use are needed. 

Baron’s work shows triticale is a more efficient way to feed – grazing 100 cows for 100 days, he says, takes 22 acres of triticale compared to 112 acres of grass, 28.5 acres of corn, or 38 acres of barley. He also figured the fuel needed to grow that feed: just under $9,000 for triticale, $12,600 for corn and $17,160 to grow feed and deliver it to the cows.

Winter cereals seeded in spring are less productive than spring triticale during the first year. But, because they don’t head out that year, you can put rapidly growing animals on them to take advantage of the high protein content. Or it can be grazed early the following year. If you graze relatively lightly, the crop can recover to produce a grain crop although yields are lowered by grazing.

You can also keep young, growing animals gaining and thriving by leaving them on the cows during the swath grazing period.

“Many cattlemen have moved calving into the summer,” says Kuipers. “The cows can supplement the swathed crop so they get the protein they need. That keeps the cost per pound of beef down.”

Kuipers is a great believer in making every change in cattle’s diet a gradual adjustment.

“You lose a month of gain when you turn backgrounded calves out on pasture in late May, when the grass is 8 to 10 inches tall,“ he says. “It’s a big change to go from hay or even worse, silage, to green grass. The shock of that transition sets animals back and leads to sand cracks in hoofs. But on stockpiled forage with new grass coming through it in spring, animals make a natural transition that lets the rumen microflora can adapt and the animals keep on gaining without missing a beat.”

Stockpiling forage for early grazing takes a fair bit of pasture management but Kuipers and Baron agree good pasture management is the best investment you can make in your cattle. 

“To grow a 50-bushel canola crop you use the best agronomics or you get 20 bushels,” says Baron. “Pasture is no different. There’s no silver bullet, you just have to do the basics. Start with pasture species, like meadow brome, and don’t overgraze, use rotational grazing and long rest periods. If you overgraze, bluegrass takes over. It’s everywhere unless you kill it with herbicide. It’s a very good survivor that isn’t very productive.”

by Helen McMenamin


Animal performance for swath grazing

Crop     Cow-days         Intake   Weight change

            /hectare            (kg/d)   (kg/d)

Triticale1152     12.9      -0.12

Corn     868      10.5      +0.05

Barley   661       14.0      -0.39


Triticale makes awesome swath grazing,” says Grey Wooded Forage Association grazing expert, Albert Kuipers. “It yields great, there are no problems with it and cattle love it.