Planting Annual Forages

Planting Guidelines for Annual Forages

February 2017

three cattle grazing in forage cover crop fieldAnnual forages are classified into three types:

  1. Cool-season, winter sensitive (spring varieties)
  2. Cool-season, winter hardy (winter varieties)
  3. Warm-season, summer annuals

Annual forages can provide rapid growth and high production with limited amounts of moisture as long as the moisture is timely. Under irrigation, annual forages provide more reliable forage production.

Annual forages offer great flexibility for managing forage supplies. They can be used to fill forage production gaps or serve as a primary forage source for grazing in spring through winter with multiple, staggered plantings of different types of annuals. Also, annual forages can be used between crop rotations as an annual forage double-crop.

Annual forage species should be selected based on the seasonal forage needs and the time of planting. The earliest spring grazing (beginning in April) can be achieved with fall planting of a winter cool-season species, such as cereal rye or triticale. Later spring grazing (beginning in May) can be gained through planting winter-sensitive cool-season species like oats in mid-March. Warm-season species, such as sudangrass, can be planted in late spring for summer grazing (beginning in July). Warm-season species also can be stockpiled for winter grazing. Oats planted in late summer produce high quality forage for late fall and early winter grazing.

Table 1
Guidelines for establishment of annual forages in Nebraska
Annual ForageForage Type 1Seeding Rate lb/ac 2Seeding Depth, inchPlanting DateWinter HardinessGrazing value 3
Fall planting (April-June grazing)
cereal rye CG 70 1.5 8/1-11/1 to -30o F 3
triticale, winter CG 70 1 8/1-11/1 to -20o F 3
wheat, winter CG 70 1.25 8/15-10/15 to -20o F 3
barley, winter CG 80 1.25 8/15-10/15 to -5o F 3
pea, winter CL 45 2.25 7/15-10/15 to -10o F 2
vetch, hairy CL 20 1 8/1-9/15 to -20o F 2
Spring planting (May-July grazing)
oats, spring CG 90 1 3/15-5/1 No 3
forage collards Br 5 0.5 3/15-5/10 No 3
triticale, spring CG 70 1 3/15-5/1 No 2
barley, spring CG 80 1.25 3/15-5/15 No 2
ryegrass, annual CG 20 0.5 3/15-5/15 to 0o F 2
pea, spring field CL 55 2.25 3/15-4/15 No 2
pea, spring forage CL 40 2.25 3/15-4/15 No 2
rapeseed/canola Br 7 0.5 3/15-4/15 No 2
hybrid grazing turnip Br 8 0.5 3/15-5/10 No 2
vetch, common CL 25 1.5 3/15-4/15 No 1
Late spring planting (July-Sept grazing)
millet, pearl WG 20 0.5 5/15-8/1 No 3
sorghum WG 10 1 5/15-8/1 No 3
sudangrass WG 20 1 5/15-8/1 No 3
sudan-sorghum hybrid WG 25 1 5/15-8/1 No 3
teff WG 5 0.25 6/1-7/15 No 3
cowpea WL 42 1.25 5/15-7/15 No 3
corn WG 50 2.25 5/15-8/15 No 2
millet, foxtail (German) WG 15 0.5 5/15-8/1 No 2
millet, proso WG 20 0.5 5/1-8/1 No 2
soybean WL 50 1.25 5/1-7/15 No 2
Summer planting (Sept-Jan grazing)
oats, spring CG 90 1 8/1-9/1 No 4
ryegrass, annual CG 20 0.5 8/1-9/1 to 0o F 4
turnip, Purple top Br 5 0.5 7/15-8/20 No 4
barley, spring CG 75 1.25 8/1-9/1 No 3
hybrid grazing turnip Br 8 0.5 7/15-8/20 No 3
kale Br 6 1.5 7/15-8/20 No 3
forage collards Br 5 0.5 7/15-8/20 No 2
rapeseed/canola Br 7 0.5 7/15-8/20 No 2
radish, Diakon Br 8 0.5 7/15-8/20 No 2
pea, spring field CL 55 2.25 7/15-8/15 No 2
pea, spring forage CL 45 2.25 7/15-8/15 No 2
clover, Berseem CL 10 0.5 7/15-8/15 No 2

1Br [brassicas], CG [cool-season grass], CL [cool-season legume], WG [warm-season grass], WL [warm-season (summer) legume]. Legumes (CL or WL) and brassicas (Br) should not be planted in monocultures for grazing; it is necessary that they are in a mixture with a compatible grass species.

2 For mixtures, target the percent of full seeding rate of the species to add to 100 to 150%. For example, if cereal rye and hairy vetch are planted in a mixture, the seeding rate of 50 lbs rye (50/65 = 77%) with 9 lb vetch (9/20 = 45%) would be 122%. 

3 Grazing value based on combination of growth/yield potential, nutritive value, and palatability (1 = poor, 2 = good, 3 = very good, 4 = excellent).

Resources for Annual Forage Management

Learning Modules: Understanding Feed Analysis

Planning Annual Forage Systems

Forage Production with Limited Irrigation - NebGuide G2012

Summer Annual Forage Grasses - NebGuide G2183

Annual Cool-Season Forages for Late-Fall or Early-Spring Double-Crop - NebGuide G2262

Windrow Grazing - NebGuide G1616

Annual Forage Production Insurance - Cornhusker Economics, June 2016


Mary Drewnoski, Nebraska Extension Beef Systems Specialist
Daren Redfearn, Nebraska Extension Forage and Crop Residue Specialist
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Lincoln, NE