In recent years, utilization of cover crops for fall forage after wheat and corn silage harvest has become more common, as opposed to letting fields lay fallow until planting of subsequent the spring crop. While these mixtures are not usually planted until August or early September, it is important to get a game plan ready in advance. There are multiple ways to “strip this wire” per se, so it is pertinent to begin with the end goals in mind. Some mixtures can combat compaction, fixate greater levels of nitrogen, or possess the value to be utilized as early or late season forage. Making it important to know what you would like to accomplish with planted mixtures or monoculture fall forages, well before planting time.
Mixtures can include both winter hardy, non-winter hardy, or a combination of varieties of both. Non-winter hardy small grain cereals include oats and spring varieties of triticale, barley, or wheat. Brassicas such as turnips, rape, or kale can be mixed with these small grain cereal grasses. Brassicas are generally high in energy content even in later maturity stages and regularly maintain nutrient quality later into the winter more so than the small grain cereal forages, all while reducing soil compaction.
Winter hardy plants mixed with non-winter hardy plants provides both fall and spring forage from a single planting. Common winter-hardy species include cereal rye, winter wheat, and barley. When these are paired with non-winter hardy species, they provide a 2-way combination that increases grazing availability from October-March. Planting of these mixtures can be utilized by planting each species in the mix at half of the seeding rate of what would normally be used in monoculture planting of each respective species.
Co-seeding winter hardy plants with non-winter hardy species increases fall forage yields. Non-winter hardy species can be replanted in the spring to increase spring forage yield.
However, planting of monocultures of winter hardy species commonly increases the spring forage yield. As previously mentioned, be sure to set aside the time to come up with a plan that fits your grazing goals as well as your agronomic goals, to improve your forage source and soil health.