Annual Ryegrass for Stored Feed and Pasture
Table of Contents
Annual ryegrass is a cool season grass that is best suited to harvesting as silage or pasture. There are two types of ryegrass that are commonly referred to as annual ryegrass: 1) the westerwold type: a true annual, heads out in the seeding year; and 2) Italian ryegrass: a biennial, does not head out in the seeding year. In most of Ontario, both types will act as annuals due to cold winters. Annual ryegrass is adapted to relatively cool climates with ample rainfall. It thrives on soils with high fertility, especially nitrogen. In Ontario, annual ryegrass can be used as an emergency source of forage or as part of a planned crop rotation. Information on the yield and quality potential of annual ryegrass is presented below.
The westerwold-type annual ryegrass cultivar Marshall was sown at 20 kg/ha at New Liskeard, Verner, and Kemptville. Nitrogen was applied pre-plant at the rate of 50 kg/ha actual N. Phosphorus and potassium requirements were met based on soil test results. First cut was taken about 55 to 60 days after planting, when the heads were fully emerged. Subsequent harvests were taken 30 to 40 days later.
First cut yields taken about 60 days after planting ranged from 2800 kg/ha to 4500 kg/ha (Table 1). Based on three cuts per year, total yield at New Liskeard ranged from 7000 kg/ha to 12000 kg/ha. Based on two cuts per year, total yields at Verner and Kemptville ranged from 5900 to 8800 kg/ha. If regrowth is reduced by dry weather, harvesting the regrowth as pasture would be more successful than machine harvesting.
First-cut crude protein levels ranged from 14 to 17%, while ADF levels ranged from 31 to 37% and NDF levels ranged from 52.6 to 55% (Table 2). On subsequent harvests, crude protein levels were lower than on the first cut while energy content was higher (data not shown). Quality could be improved by taking the first cut at head emergence instead of after the heads had fully emerged. Heads continued to emerge during the aftermath growth. This likely reduced the crude protein levels in the second cut. Second and third cut protein levels might be improved by cutting more frequently, but the yield of each cut will be reduced.
In 1995, approximately 20 acres of annual ryegrass was harvested as round bale silage. The field had been ploughed out of sod the previous fall. The bales were core-sampled at the time of wrapping and 60 days after wrapping. The quality of the annual ryegrass was very good and did not deteriorate after the bales were wrapped (Table 3). The silage was very palatable when fed to ewes and lambs.
Under good conditions, annual ryegrass can provide high yields of average quality, highly palatable forage. Under poor seedbed conditions, annual ryegrass yield will often be disappointing. Three cuts per year are possible, although two cuts followed by a grazing pass may be more practical. Aftermath growth is very dependent on rainfall. Although not part of our experiments, topdressing liquid manure after each harvest should boost yield and crude protein content of the regrowth. Annual ryegrass is ideal for late fall grazing since it continues growing into October and winter survival is not a consideration.
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