Cereals are the new rye-grass for dairy farmers

By Rodney Woods

Cereals have been gaining popularity among dairy farmers in the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District for use as forage crops.

The major reason is they generally yield higher than rye-grass when soil moisture is limited.

Cereals should generally be grazed when at 20 to 25 cm high for upright varieties, and 10 to 15 cm high for flat/prone varieties.

A good rule of thumb is stock should enter at gumboot height and be removed at work-boot height.

Before grazing, it is important to check the plants have anchored and have grown secondary roots.

To check this has occurred, use the ‘pluck and twist’ method. This can be achieved by grabbing the plant at the target grazing height, then pull and twist.

If it breaks off, the forage has an advanced enough root system for grazing.

If the plant is pulled out of the ground, the forage is not ready to graze as the plants will be pulled up, reducing plant density and future yield.

The ‘pluck and twist’ test should be conducted at multiple locations across the paddock, therefore being representative of the whole grazing area.

After grazing, cereals like rye-grass need a residual amount of dry matter to allow for recovery.

The paddocks should be grazed down to 10 to 15 cm for upright varieties and 5 cm for flat varieties to ensure sufficient residual for regrowth.

Strip or rotationally grazing cereals is preferred as it allows the plants to re-energise.

Set stocking can lead to crops being overgrazed and unable to recover carbohydrate stores, which results in bare patches.

If the cereal is going to be harvested for fodder, grazing must finish before the growing point or seed head starts moving up the stem. This process is called jointing.

The first visible indication is the occurrence of first node stage when the node is visible and ‘feelable’ one to 2 cm above the ground. This occurs on the main stem first, which in a grazed paddock will be the fattest of the tillers.

Grazing off this node will stop the growth of this tiller and decrease the amount of fodder that is available in spring.

For information about Agriculture Victoria support to dairy farmers preparing for dry seasonal conditions, phone Brett Davidson on 5833 5206 or visit: agriculture.vic.gov.au/dryseasons

— Richard Smith, Agriculture Victoria dairy extension officer