General Information

The cereal small grains; wheat, oats, barley, and rye offer Kansas livestock producers great versatility in forage systems. Regardless of the species utilized, these crops meet or exceed nutritional requirements of grazing livestock. Small grain forage is high in protein and low in fiber during most of the winter grazing season. Crude protein, on a dry matter basis, normally ranges from 15% to 34%. Properly managed, the small grains may be utilized for pasture until the onset of jointing with little or no reduction in grain yield. 

Gains of 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds per day are easily obtained during the fall, winter, and spring months. 

Small grains may be seeded in pure stands, in mixtures, or over-seeded or sod-sown in perennial grasses. Likewise, small grains may be utilized in the production of high quality hay or silage for beef and dairy operations. 

All the cereal forages are annuals, although some are fall sown and others are spring sown. They tiller from nodes at the base of the plants and thus, a single plant usually is composed of numerous tillers. In early stages of development these tillers are primarily leaf, and become stemmy as maturity approaches. At jointing (stem elongation), a bud is formed just above the first nod. If the bud is damaged by grazing livestock, grain production will not occur. Grazing livestock must be removed at or preferably before the onset of jointing if a grain crop is desired. 

When utilizing small grains as a dual-purpose crop, i.e., as a forage and grain crop, the seeding date should be two to four weeks earlier than for grain production alone. Likewise, the seeding rate should be increased 30% to 50%. 

The principle fertilizer requirement of small grains is nitrogen. If small grains are to be utilized for forage, a fall application of nitrogen fertilizer is critical. However, excessive rates of nitrogen may result in luxury consumption and high forage yields cannot be maintained without additional nitrogen later in the season. Normally, small grains are fertilized with nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium at planting time and topdressed with additional nitrogen in winter and sometimes spring. If a grain crop is contemplated it is especially important to split nitrogen applications. 

Winter Wheat

Kansas is recognized around the world as a major production area of hard red winter wheat. It traditionally leads the United States in acres planted and bushels harvested. Currently, almost 100 varieties of winter wheat are marketed in the state. Many of these cultivars are well suited to forage systems as well as for grain production. 

Seeding rates of winter wheat utilized for forage range from 90 to 120 pounds per acre dryland in eastern Kansas and under irrigation in other areas of the state to 35 to 65 pounds per acre dryland in western Kansas. Date of planting should be two to four weeks earlier than normal seeding dates used for grain production. 

Variety selection is often a critical management decision when utilizing winter wheat for forage. In western Kansas, those varieties with resistance to the Hessian fly and tolerance to wheat streak mosaic virus will be more consistent in performance at the earlier planting dates. In central and eastern Kansas, tolerance to soil borne mosaic virus, spindle streak mosaic virus, leaf diseases, and the Hessian fly can often mean the difference between a profitable forage/grain system and a mediocre or poor return on the investment. Varieties differ in their ability to provide rapid ground cover in the fall. Likewise, some varieties, such as "Newton", grow almost flat against the ground; while others, such as "Caldwell" (soft wheat) and "Arkan" offer grazing livestock an easily accessible, upright forage growth. When utilized for hay or silage, the taller-later maturing varieties may produce greater forage yields. However, in central and eastern Kansas these later maturing varieties are generally subjected to greater pressure from the leaf diseases (such as leaf rust) which can substantially lower yield and quality.

Winter Rye

Rye is the most cold tolerant and has the least specific soil and moisture requirements of the small grain cereal crops. Its quick fall and spring growth make rye the most productive small grain for pasture. It is a more consistent producer of spring pasture than wheat, although it quickly becomes unpalatable in late spring. 

Rye is often ignored because of the chance it may contaminate nearby wheat fields. However, if rye is not allowed to head and produce seed, wheat contamination is not a problem. After pasturing, destroy the crop with tillage or herbicide, or cut it for hay or silage at the boot stage.


Triticale, a cross between rye and wheat, is becoming more popular as a forage crop in this region. It is better suited as pasture than as hay or silage because it has larger stems that don't dry down easily. It has a higher forage yield, but lower quality than wheat. Use caution when planting near wheat fields as triticale is often contaminated with rye seed.



  • DON - Good grain yields, white oats preferred for horse feed.

  • TROY - Dual purpose: good forage and grain production, a taller later maturing yellow variety

In Kansas, spring oat cultivars are usually recommended rather than winter types. Even in the southern-most counties of the state, the cold-tolerance and winter hardiness of the winter oat varieties currently available is questionable. 'Cimmaron', 'Bob' and 'Nora' are the winter cultivars most widely used in southern Kansas. 

When selecting cultivars to use in forage systems, greater production usually results from the "forage-type" cultivars as opposed to the "grain types" ('Larry', 'Bates', 'Ogle', etc.). The two most commonly planted forage-type spring oat cultivars in Kansas are 'Lodi' and 'Troy'. If planting oat cultivars for forage production in Kansas, it is generally best to utilize them in combination with or mixtures of various other small grains and/or legumes. Red clover and lespedeza may be inter-seeded to increase the feed value of oat hay after grain harvest. 


In Kansas, both spring and winter types of barley are grown. Winter barley is much less hardy than winter wheat and does not extend as far northward as does the production of winter wheat. While there is a great deal of over-lap, generally in southern Kansas the winter cultivars such as "Post", "Schuyler", and "Kanby" are recommended, while in northern Kansas the spring cultivars such as "Robust", "Morex", and "Hazen" are often more productive.