Cereal grains like wheat are grown for dual purpose (forage and grain) production in the Central Plains and Southern Plains states. To prevent grazing animals from eating immature wheat heads, livestock are generally removed from the fields just prior to the jointing growth stage when immature wheat heads move up the stems.
This year, economic conditions and the marginal wheat yield outlook have many Nebraska growers placing higher value on wheat as a forage. Extended spring dry conditions held back pasture growth and delayed livestock turn out onto native pastures.
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Also, higher hay prices (still over $200 per ton for prairie hay and baled alfalfa) are favoring wheat forage utilization. For example, the wheat or rye graze-out option may provide 45 days or more of grazing.
So, instead of protecting potential grain yields, producers may be removing wheat as a forage and re-planting summer annuals like grain sorghum, millet or forage sorghums on those same fields.
Whether the cereal plant forages are grazed out, hayed or harvested as wheatlage, the goal is to timely plant subsequent summer annuals between mid-May to mid-June for optimizing yields. Sorghum planting windows may extend to later June or possible early July depending on moisture conditions. Later grain sorghum planting dates, though — such as after wheat grain harvest — usually result in yields half as productive compared to earlier sorghum planting.
In western Nebraska, average stocker cattle gains on wheat during May and early June have ranged from 1.5 to 2.5 pounds per head per day.