Planting Cover Crops for Forage in August After Wheat

Planting Cover Crops for Forage in August After Wheat (Research Summary)

May 2016

photo - calf grazing in field
One way to add additional weight to fall weaned calves prior to selling them is to graze them on cover crops in the fall. Photo courtesy of Mary Drewnoski.

One way to add additional weight to fall-weaned calves prior to selling them is to graze them on cover crops in the fall. This may have an additional benefit in that market prices for 500 to 600 lb calves traditionally increase from October through January.


In a 2016 Nebraska Beef Report the yield and quality of 5 species mixes planted in mid-August after wheat and the gain of calves grazing these mixes were presented. Yield of the predominantly cool-season mix (turnips and oats) in 2013 when no fertilizer was applied was 1 ton DM/ac. In 2014, liquid feedlot manure was applied to provide 210 lb. N/ac for the upcoming corn crop. Yield for the predominantly cool-season mix (radishes, turnips and oats) was 1.76 tons DM/ac. Quality of the forage appeared to be high in both years with CP of 12% in 2013 and 20% in 2014. The TDN (based on ADF) was calculated to be 74% in 2013 and 72% in 2014.

Calves (450 to 600 lb) were stocked at 1 hd/ac in 2013 and 1.7 hd/ac in 2014. Grazing started in mid-November and calves grazed for approximately 50 days. Average daily gain of calves was 2.0 lb/d in 2013 and 1.5 lb/d in 2014 and resulted in gain of 97 lb/ac in 2013 and 137 lb/ac in 2014. In 2014 the forage was almost 70% brassica (radish and turnip) and the low fiber content of the forage likely resulted in the lower than expected gains.

Take Home Message

Quality of oats and brassicas mixes in the fall is very high. Calves have been observed to gain between 1.5 and 2.0 lb/d when grazing these mixes in the fall/winter. Brassicas (even the leaves) should be thought of more like a concentrate (grain) than forage. Too much brassica in the mix may result in reduced digestion due to high ruminal passage rate. With mid-August planting a suggested planting rate would be 40 to 60 lb/ac of oats with 3 to 4 lb/ac of turnips.

More Information

For more information on this study, please see the 2016 Nebraska Beef Report “Observations of Forage Quality and Calf Gain when Grazing Double Cropped Forage Following Wheat Harvest,” (PDF) by Kristen Ulmer, Robert Bondurant, Jana Harding, Gary Lesoing, Mary Drewnoski and Jim MacDonald.

For more information on using cool-season cover crops as forage see NebGuide G2262, Annual Cool-Season Forages for Late-Fall or Early-Spring Double-Crop (PDF).

Mary Drewnoski
Nebraska Beef Systems Specialist