Preparation / Planting / Grazing of Ryegrass for Sheep & Cattle
This write-up was originally prepared for a visit by the Louisiana Forage and Grasslands Council several years ago. It still accurately reflects our operation.

Introduction

Over the years enough people have asked me about my ryegrass (RG) production and grazing procedures that I have decided to prepare this paper detailing the only methods that I consider to be worthwhile. Actually it is about more than just RG. It is about the year-round maintenance and production of sheep and cattle without relying on any stored or purchased feedstuffs (hay and/or grain).

Very Well Prepared Seedbed

Start plowing and disking in early September. Plow six inches deep, then disk until 95 percent of the vegetation is dead and buried.

Plant about September 10-15. Broadcast 300 pounds per acre (PPA) of 6-24-24 and 50 PPA of RG seed. Seed variety should be tested and approved for your area. I use Jackson from Wax Seed Company. Check price and availability. Clover will not survive in this high rate of RG seeding.

Cultipack immediately and hope for rain. Watch for army worms.

When the RG is 2-4 inches tall, broadcast 200 PPA of urea or 300 PPA of ammonium nitrate (check their relative prices) and hope for rain. Continue daily worm watch until cool weather.

Depending on your spring grazing needs, plan to add up to 200 PPA of urea (300 ammonium nitrate) in late February when the weather is warmer.

Grazing

If it rains soon after seeding and again after the first nitrogen application, the RG will be 10-12 inches tall and ready for grazing by about November 1, and for nearly seven months thereafter.

Assuming the cattle are in good condition at the start of the RG season and internal parasites are under control, two hours per day of lush RG grazing will meet the nutritional needs of most animals. The exception is cows with nursing calves, and young stock where extra growth is desired. These groups require two hours each night and morning. Grazing time must be limited to two hours in order to minimize unnecessary trampling.

Too many people claim they can't use timed grazing because of their regular job. The truth is that all that is required is to have a family member or neighbor open the gate two hours before they get home.

Controlled grazing with portable electric polywire fencing must be used to conserve grass by minimizing trampling. This is done by allowing the cattle to have access only to a very small acreage during each graze to prevent them from wandering aimlessly about and ruining forage. The cattle should be allowed into a temporarily fenced portion of the RG pasture that contains no more grass than they can consume in a two-hour period. Estimation of the proper plot size takes some practice. However, the required size is probably much smaller than your first guess. When this area is completely grazed, remove the cows, relocate the electric fence to prohibit continued access during the regrowth period, and offer them a fresh plot the next day.

Unpreventable trampling during the daily two-hour graze is a problem during wet weather, but the RG planting rate of 50 PPA moderates the damage satisfactorily. I graze every animal every day regardless of the weather or soil conditions.

I do wait until the sun has thawed the frozen RG before I graze after a frost or freeze. However, this "rule" must be suspended on days when the temperature remains below freezing.

Finally, in early March when it is obvious that spring is arriving and RG growth is exceeding consumption, turn cow/calf pairs out to graze 24 hours per day. By mid to late March there should be sufficient growth for all animals except pregnant cows to graze 24 hours per day.

Perhaps a word about calving difficulties with cows wintered on lush RG would be appropriate. This has never been a problem for me because I limit pregnant cows to two hours per day of RG grazing and nothing else except minerals and salt. I also try to use common sense in initial breeding age/weight and in sire selection. No one should have more than an occasional problem if they follow similar guidelines.

Drill Planting

RG may also be cross drilled (opposite directions) at about 30-35 PPA of seed whenever (September - December) the last grazing of the warm-season grasses is complete (graze closely). Obviously the earlier the planting the better. Do not plant the Gulf variety after about October 20, or any variety after about December 20. Clover seeding is a recommended addition to this planting method. Do not fertilize until a heavy frost or freeze has made the warm-season grasses dormant. Apply a complete fertilizer at this time. I use 350+ PPA of 25-15-15.

Topdress with 100-200 PPA of urea (or equivalent ammonium nitrate) in late February. The actual amount required is a guess based on the amount of clover in the stand and upon your anticipated forage needs for the rest of the RG season. Consider one pound per acre of actual nitrogen per day of expected RG grazing.

The time of first grazing and the total forage production of this method can not be predicted. In general this procedure seems to produce no more than about half as much forage as the well-prepared seedbed method does even though the expenditures for seed and fertilizer can be nearly as high. However, since a person can not plow every acre he owns in early September, this planting method is a very useful one.

Use timed and controlled grazing as previously described.

Make sure that all of the RG is removed (grazed/baled) before early May so that the warm-season grasses will not be stunted too badly.

Cost Factors

If you calculate the total per acre costs of the two planting methods described above, you may feel faint. However, if you could honestly and accurately calculate the cost of wintering cows on hay (taking into account its normally dubious quality and all production costs including machinery), you might feel deathly ill. RG may be expensive, but at least the quality is excellent which is something that can not be said of the typical Gulf Coast hay bale, which is all-too-often round and stored outside. I am certain that hay is one of the most expensive things that you can feed a cow. Animal-harvested RG means minimal investment in machinery and labor!

Despite what some inexperienced grazers may suggest, absolutely no hay or feed is required to winter cows if two hours per day of lush RG grazing is available (two hours twice per day for lactating cows and young stock). As of the late spring of 1995 I have had eight winters of no hay produced, purchased, or fed; and only in the late fall of 1993 was I required to purchase any feed. This was necessitated by the combination of late RG (prolonged drought) and dead warm-season grasses (killing frost/freeze on November 1). After a few days the cows refused to eat the dead grass. The solution was to purchase 500 pound syrup blocks (very expensive) which encouraged the cows to continue to eat the dead grass until the RG was ready. The cost was 40 cents per day per cow or about $900 until the RG was ready. This $900 represents my total eight year feed purchases for wintering cows. About the only other time I purchase feed is for 8 to 10 days to give to freshly weaned calves and when preparing herd bull prospects to go on performance test.

Frank Boggs, Jr. April 1995

NOTE: Since this was written I have had to purchase hay two or three times due to fall drought.

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