Forage cereals can be direct drilled or sown into a cultivated seed bed. Being a larger seed allows them to be sown deeper and earlier in the season. Soil contact is still important for an even germination so a roller following sowing is recommended and ensure paddock is free of excessive stubble loads as this will hinder emergence.
Yield potential of forage cereals is strongly correlated with the level of fertility in the soil. It is recommended that before sowing, a soil test is taken to determine any deficiencies or restraints such deficient phosphorus or low pH (acidic). Soil pH between 4.8 and 7.5 will ensure the cereal can achieve its potential yield. Once the soil fertility is known, any deficiencies can be rectified before sowing commences.
Reducing weeds in the seed bed reduces competition with the newly sown forage cereals. Preventing weeds setting seed is key to reducing this burden in the future. A knock-down herbicide can be used prior to sowing to reduce competition.
At sowing, it is important to apply a sowing fertiliser such as MAP or DAP, which contains both Phosphorus (essential for root development) and Nitrogen (essential for leaf growth). Sowing fertiliser provides the forage cereal with sufficient nutrition to establish successfully. After initial grazing the use of nitrogen fertiliser such as Urea can be used to increase recovery rates of the forage cereal. Ensure safe grazing intervals are adhered to (see animal health section).
Insects and slugs can cause significant damage to newly sown forage cereals. It is essential to monitor for insects prior and immediately after the germination. If pests are present in large numbers, it may be necessary to apply an insecticide or slug bait either prior to sowing or after germination has occurred. The use of insecticide coated seed can also help with the prevention of insect damage from sap sucking insects. Ensure insecticide label guidelines are followed specifically regarding grazing withholding periods.
Forage cereals are reasonably large seeds therefore can be sown deeper than most other pasture species. Sowing depth is often dependent on moisture availability and soil conditions at the time of sowing. A sowing depth anywhere between 10-50mm is acceptable.
Before grazing use the ‘pull test’ whereby you attempt to pull the plant up, if it pulls from the soil easily it is best to wait until it is well anchored before allowing livestock to graze. Forage cereals are suited to rotational and strip grazing. Allow tillers to reach a height of approximately 20-25cm before first grazing and graze down to a height of 10-15cm then allow plants to recover back to 20-25cm before subsequent grazings.
Forage cereals can be very lush feed and highly digestible, caution should be taken when introducing hungry livestock or changing livestock diets rapidly. Ensure roughage is provided until livestock have adjusted to the forage cereal or allow the forage cereals to grow more thus producing more fibre. The use of nitrogen fertiliser to increase growth of the forage cereals can also cause animal health issues such as nitrate poisoning. If the crop has not had sufficient time or sunlight to convert nitrate (from urea) into proteins, livestock eating the forage cereals can suffer from poisoning effects. After urea has been spread it is good practice to wait three to four weeks before grazing again. This will allow time for the nitrates to assimilate into proteins, but also the leaves will grow larger in this time and dilute the nitrates which are often found in high concentration in young fresh leaves. Provide roughage upon re-introduction this will also help combat any nitrate issues in the rumen.