1998 Annual Ryegrass Performance in Western Maryland Demonstration Report

Stanley W. Fultz, Extension Agent
Dairy Science
Frederick County Office
Maryland Cooperative Extension
Donald M. Schwartz, Extension Agent
Agricultural Science/Natural Resources
Washington County Office
Washington County Maryland


Annual ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum Lam. Or Lolium perenne L. ssp. multiflorum Lam. Husnot, also called Italian ryegrass) is a cool-season annual bunchgrass native to southern Europe. It is closely related to perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.). Both are widely distributed throughout the world, including North and South America, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia.

Annual ryegrass is an important short-duration grass. High palatability and digestibility make this species highly valued for forage/livestock systems. It is used in many environments when fast cover or quick feed is required. It is this quick feed characteristic that increased the use of Marshall Ryegrass® in the mid-Atlantic region from several hundred pounds of seed in 1996 to more than 150,000 pounds of seed in the drought of 1997.

Many varieties of annual ryegrass are available. However, variety trial information is lacking for the mid-Atlantic region since the largest area of annual ryegrass forage production is from eastern Texas and Oklahoma eastward to the Atlantic Coast.

For this reason, a demonstration trial was established at the University of Maryland’s Western Maryland Research and Education Center in Keedysville, Maryland, with the following objectives:


Sixteen annual ryegrass varieties and triticale were no-till seeded in four replicated blocks on October 2, 1997. The ryegrass were seeded at approximately 30 pounds per acre, and the triticale was seeded at 120 pounds per acre. The 10-acre plot area was divided evenly into two management systems: Management Intensive (MIG) and Cut and Carry (CNC). Both systems included two replicates. All ryegrass varieties tested were submitted by suppliers following our request for winter-hardy, forage-type ryegrasses.

The plots received three 55-pound applications of Nitrogen (urea) on March 25, April 25, and May 30, 1998. The first application helped initiate early growth. The next two followed the hay or haylage cuttings.

Grazing was initiated on April 14, and a 10-day rotation was maintained. Twenty 1,000-pound bred Holstein heifers grazed the five acres for seven weeks (April 14 – June 2). The heifer group was reduced to 10 animals for the next five weeks (June 2 – July 7) and was further reduced to five heifers for the last four weeks (July 7 – Aug. 4). Each of the five one-acre paddocks were grazed for two days for the first 30 days. After May 15, the paddock size was reduced to ˝ acre per day to increase forage utilization. A trace mineralized salt block and water were provided in each paddock. Total forage cover was monitored weekly using the Alistair George PastureGauge© Pal. Heifers were weighed as a group upon entering and exiting the system.

The first cutting of haylage was Made April 22. The second and third cuttings were made as dry hay on May 19 and June 29. Cuttings were coordinated with pasture walks and not managed intensively. Dry matter yields were determined using the Alistair George PastureGauge© Pal.


Winter hardiness: Due to the mild weather of the 1997-98 winter, no differences were observed in tested varieties.

Variety Response: All annual ryegrass varieties, with the exception of Mara, had germinated and emerged within five days after planting. Mara was slightly slower to emerge, showed little growth in the fall, but it tillered the best of all varieties. Mara is a fine-leafe, low growing plant best suited for grazing (Note: Mara is actually a winter hardy, proprietary, perennial variety). The other annual ryegrass varieties were more upright in their growth habits, making them suitable for machine harvest as well as grazing. Table 1 contains details of the plant heading dates, an indication of maturity, and stand persistence into the summer months.

Maturity is expressed relative to wheat heading. For example, if the variety headed out one week after wheat, it is ranked +1. Eight of the varieties matured at the same time as wheat in 1998. Two varieties matured one week after wheat, four matured two weeks after wheat, and two varieties matured three or more weeks after wheat. The triticale (cross between wheat and cereal rye) matured one week prior to wheat. This information allows producers to choose varieties that will help them manage their spring workloads.

Dormancy is an indication of how early in the summer the variety goes dormant. Since annual ryegrass is an annual plant, under growing conditions in the mid-Atlantic area, it tillers and grows in the fall as long as favorable temperatures exist. After overwintering, it begins to grow early in the spring similar to cereal grains. By mid-July, most varieties were dormant or had completed their life cycle. Early varieties were dormant on July 17, 1998. Those identified as late varieties still had significant growth on that day.

Table 1. Performance of annual ryegrass for several characteristics in Keedysville, Maryland - 1998 (back)





Southern Star
SSEBP242 Diploid
TAM 90
Tetra Gold
Tritical 498d




a Maturity relative to wheat heading. 0 = wheat; -1 = one week prior to wheat; +1 = one week after wheat; +2 = two weeks after wheat; +3 = three weeks after wheat
b Summer dormancy. E = early; I= intermediate; L = late
c Dry matter yield per acre as determined by the Alistair George PastureGauge© Pal.
d This is a wheat/rye cross or triticale, not an annual ryegrass.

Annual ryegrass yield on the CNC system ranged from 3.5 to 4.4 tons per acre. Average dry matter yield was 3.75 tons per acre. This was more than twice the yield obtained from the triticale of 1.8 tons per acre. However, the entire yield from Trical was from one cutting while the annual ryegrasses had three cuttings. After adjusting for harvest and storage loses, the dry matter available to feed livestock from the CNC system was 3.2 tons per acre. Statistical analysis was not completed on these samples, so data should be interpreted carefully. Although differences in leaf width were observed, there appeared to be no relationship between leaf width and yield.

Animal Performance and Carrying Capacity: The plots were grazed for 111 days by different numbers of heifers to give a total of 292 heifer grazing days per acre. This is equal to 2.63 heifers per acre or 2.7 animal units per acre (one animal unit = 1,000 pounds). The average daily gain was 1.64 pounds. Body condition score increased by as much as one-half point on a five-point scale. Using those figures, the consumption by the heifers was calculated to be 24.5 pounds per day or 3.58 tons dry matter per acre for the season.

The heifers quickly adapted to being moved to new paddocks, and within two weeks they could be moved in a matter of minutes as the break wire was opened for them to pass to the next paddock. As with any MIG system, the animals became accustomed to human activity and could be easily moved from place to place by calling and leading them to new grass. (Note: MIG animals are led better than driven, since they become accustomed to following the person opening the gate that leads to fresh grass.)


Annual ryegrass is an important short-duration grass. High palatability and digestibility make this species highly valued for forage/livestock systems. It is used in many environments when fast cover or quick feed is required. Its use in the mid-Atlantic region has grown exponentially over the last year because of forage shortages. Since the winter was unusually mild, the 16 varieties of annual ryegrass evaluated at the Keedysville research facility overwintered with no noticeable frost/freeze damage. Dry matter yield on the MIG system was 3.58 tons per acre. Yield on the CNC system was 3.2 tons per acre. Differences in maturity and dormancy permit producers to match variety with harvest schedule and future land use. Bred Holstein heifers grazing annual ryegrass gained 1.64 pounds per day during the 111-day grazing period from April 14 to August 4, 1998. Animals quickly adapted to the MIG management system. During the grazing period, 2.7 animal units per acre were supported by annual ryegrass for all their nutritional needs except trace mineral salt and water.

Future Plans

The authors plan to repeat the trial with many of the same annual ryegrass varieties in 1998-99. It is our concern that last year’s mild winter has allowed several of the varieties to persist in the transitional zone for fall-seeded annual ryegrass. A second study has been started to investigate the efficacy of planting annual ryegrass into corn at the nine-leaf stage in hopes of producing additional fall growth.

Annual Ryegrass Seed Distributors

Bison and Major
Craig Edminster
International Seeds
PO Box 168
Halsey, OR 97348
Phone: 1-800-445-2251
James Waid
Wetsel Seed Company
PO Box 791
Harrisonburg, VA 22801
Phone: 1-800-572-4018
Fax: 540-434-4894
TAM 90
Lloyd R. Nelson, Ph.D.
Ag. Research & Education Center
PO Box E Overton, TX 75684-0290
Phone: 903-834-6191
Fax: 903-834-7140
Rio and Southern Star
Craig Taylor
Martin’s Elevator/Southern States
13219 Maugansville Road
Hagerstown, MD 21740
Phone: 301-733-2553
Barmultra, Barverdi, Hercules and Tetra Gold
Craig Leggett
Barenbrug USA
19933 Lemuel Lane
Boonsboro, MD 21713
Phone: 301-733-2818
Tetrone, Multimo and Urbana
Adrian Vanderhave
Advanta Seeds Pacific, Inc.
PO Box 1496
Albany, OR 97321-0452
Phone: 541-967-8923
Fax: 541-967-8223
Email: adrian@advantaseedspacific.com
Surrey and SSEBP242
David Keister
Smith Seed Services
PO Box 288
26890 Powerline Road
Halsey, OR 97348
Phone: 1-800-826-6327

For more information

For more information in the use of annual ryegrass for livestock feed in the mid-Atlantic region, please contact the authors.

Stanley Fultz
Phone: 301-694-1594 X3578
Fax: 301-694-1588
Donald Schwartz
Phone: 301-791-1304
Fax: 301-791-1048


PNW 501: Annual Ryegrass. A Pacific Northwest Extension Publication Oregon-Idaho-Washington (Revised January 5, 1998). http://wwwagcomm.ads.orst.edu/AgComWebFile/EdMat/PNW501.pdf

Programs and activities offered by the West Virginia University Extension Service are available to all persons without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, veteran status, sexual orientation, or national origin. Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension Work, Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Lawrence Cote, Director, Cooperative Extension Service, West Virginia University.