“Cattle should not be put onto wheat pasture until there is crown root development to anchor the plants,” says Jim Shroyer, Kansas State University (KSU) Extension crop production specialist. “That may take a little longer than normal this year if growth is slowed by dry soil conditions.”
Despite dry conditions over much of western and central Kansas this fall, some areas have had enough recent rain to increase the chances of having pasture for cattle. As well, producers in Oklahoma are finally receiving some moisture.
“Don’t just look at top growth and assume that if the wheat is tillered, crown roots have developed; sometimes that’s not the case,” Shroyer explains. “Check some plants to make sure there's good root development. Cattle shouldn't be able to pull the plants out of the ground as they graze.”
In general, Shroyer says there should be 6-12 in. of top growth before pasturing wheat, but the true test of when the wheat is ready is to see if crown roots have developed enough that the wheat is hard to pull out of the ground.
As well, Dorivar Ruiz Diaz, a KSU Extension nutrient management specialist, says producers should use extra nitrogen (N) on wheat being used for pasture.
“Cattle remove N in the wheat forage. It’s not uncommon to see N deficiencies in wheat after cattle have been removed. For every 100 lbs./acre of animal gain, producers should apply another 40 lbs./acre of N in order to maintain grain yields,” Ruiz Diaz says. He adds that producers should use split applications of N, with part of the N going on in early fall, and part of it applied as soon as the cattle are pulled off in the late winter or early spring.
Finally, Shroyer advises those utilizing wheat pasture to maintain a dry area cattle can be moved to when fields get wet. That helps limit problems with soil compaction.