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Southeast: Timing matters for annual ryegrass management grazing

Kim Mullenix for Progressive Cattle Published on 23 April 2021

Annual ryegrass is a high-quality, cool-season forage grown widely in the southeast U.S. Desirable forage yield and nutritive value characteristics make it a key component of forage systems for beef cattle for grazing, hay or baleage production.

Overseeding warm-season perennials such as bermudagrass or bahiagrass with annual ryegrass may help extend year-round forage production and is a good fit for many cow-calf operations with limited capacity for planting into a prepared seedbed. Although this is an annual species, it is known for its reseeding ability. Once a seedbank is established, annual ryegrass will continue to emerge in subsequent years, providing a winter forage base where continuous fall plantings have occurred over the years.

Annual ryegrass production peaks in late spring, and stands generally remain productive into late May or mid-June. In the case of pastures overseeded with annual ryegrass, this growth pattern overlaps with late spring and early summer warm-season forage growth and may delay the emergence of warm-season perennials from winter dormancy. Annual ryegrass carryover into the early summer may hurt warm-season forage production by competing for moisture, sunlight and nutrients. This can be especially detrimental to warm-season perennial grass forage yield, where the majority of the seasonal forage production occurs during the first three months post-winter emergence. Attention to timing during the growing season and use of a management strategy such as mowing, grazing or chemical control of annual ryegrass during the late spring can help producers better capture the benefit of using annual ryegrass while protecting warm-season perennial persistence.

Using appropriate stocking strategies to help graze out annual ryegrass in early May is one potential strategy for managing stand competition. This coincides with the time when warm-season perennial grass pastures are coming out of winter dormancy and would be competing with annual ryegrass for space to thrive. Providing enough grazing pressure to remove the majority of annual ryegrass in the stand will open the plant canopy, decreasing shading effects and allowing warm-season forages to emerge more quickly.

After grazing, apply appropriate nutrients to the warm-season forage according to soil test information and stand production goals to provide resources needed to help stimulate growth. Once shading competition has been removed, remember that appropriate fertility along with favorable weather conditions allows warm-season perennials to flourish, and these perennials cannot rebound quickly to outcompete other species in the stand without “a full tank.” Allow adequate growth and emergence of the warm-season perennial prior to turnout of animals for subsequent grazing during the season. end mark

Kim Mullenix
  • Kim Mullenix

  • Extension Beef Specialist/Associate Professor
  • Auburn University
  • Email Kim Mullenix