By Rowena Plett, Staff writer

Several farmers in Marion County, Kan., are planting cover crops to extend the grazing season for their cattle. Seeds such as cereal rye, annual ryegrass, oilseed radishes, forage turnips, oats, and triticale or a mixture of these often are planted after wheat harvest or in other fields at various times of the summer for late fall and early winter grazing.

Kelly Novak of Tampa has been planting crops for winter grazing for at least 10 years. He calls it swath grazing.

Sometimes after wheat harvest, he plants a mixture of sorghum sudan, harry vetch, kale, rapeseed, and turnips. He said it’s great for grazing and for soil health.

Right before the first frost, he swaths the crop and lets it lie in rows in the field. When he is ready to turn cattle into it, he uses electric fence to create a limited area for grazing and moves the fence every two to four days.

“It varies from year to year depending on how many cattle are grazing and how wet it is,” he said. “If it’s wet, I move them quicker.”

Last year, he had 180 cows on 120 acres for 90 days.

“It keeps the manure out in the field where you want it, and I don’t have to bale the hay and take it to them,” he said.

Rick Hanschu of Ramona has 250 acres planted to a mixture of triticale, rye, barley, turnips, and radishes. He planted the crop in August and is planning to turn cows out on it any day now.

He said the cover crop is a good source of protein for the cattle. He uses electric fence to control how much they can graze at one time.

How long they can stay in one area is dependent on how much growth the crop has.

“When they are standing along the fence waiting for me, I know it’s time to move the fence,” Hanschu said. “They are looking for protein.”

He said he used to plant milo in fields with cover crops but he doesn’t do that anymore, so he can graze the fields into spring.

He can bale or chop for silage any remaining growth and then put in another crop.

David DeForest of Florence said he planted a field to cover crops this fall, but it hasn’t seen much growth because of dry weather. He said he may run some calves on it later if it grows some more.