1998 Marshall Annual Ryegrass Demonstration

Don Schwartz and Jeff Semler
Extension Agents, Agricultural Science and Natural Resources
Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County, Maryland


In 1997 a single dairy farmer in the county requested Extension’s assistance in monitoring a new crop to the area, Marshall annual ryegrass. The resulting demonstration detailed seeding and fertilization, grazing and haylage cuttings, forage quality, cow performance, and feed cost savings. The results documented on this farm indicated that Marshall ryegrass is a winter annual grass that can produce a significant yield of high quality forage both as pasture and haylage. Several pasture walks, news articles, newsletters, a widely distributed detailed demonstration report, and a drought causing a forage shortage resulted in the sales of about 150,000 pounds of Marshall ryegrass seed in the region in the late summer and early fall of 1997.

With close to 5,000 acres of a new crop being seeded and only a handful of producers with any experience, it was a very real concern that available information would be insufficient for all producers to realize the best results from this new forage.

The goal of the 1998 Marshall ryegrass demonstration is to document the results of Marshall ryegrass production under a number of farming situations. This report provides detailed results from six private farms and a research farm. Additional information was gathered from a number of other farms and are included in the observation and conclusions.

Marshall annual ryegrass is owned by the Wax Company and is marketed by Wetsel Seeds. Contributions from these companies have made this demonstration possible.

Demonstration Farms

Western Maryland Research and Education Center

Marshall ryegrass was seeded no-till at 30 pounds per acre October 2, 1997, as part of a demonstration including 15 additional non-perennial ryegrass varieties. The plots received three 55-pound applications of nitrogen (urea) on March 25, April 25, and May 30, 1998. The first application assisted the initiation of early growth and the next two applications corresponded to the timing of hay or haylage cuttings.

Grazing was initiated on April 14, and a 10- day rotation was maintained. Twenty 1,000 pound bred heifers grazed the five acres for six weeks. The heifer group was reduced to 10 animals for the month of June and was further reduced to five heifers for the month of July.

The first cutting of haylage was made April 22. The second and third cuttings were made as dry hay on May 19 and June 20, respectively. Cuttings were coordinated with pasture walks and not managed intensively.

Several forage analyses are as follows:

CP

ADF

N.F.

NEL

RFV

Pasture

4/20

20.0

21.2

39.4

.82

171

5/18

18.5

29.2

41.3

.71

149

Haylage

4/20

15.4

22.5

51.4

.81

129

Hay

5/18

14.1

37.7

56.6

.61

98

Myron Martin Farm

This was the 1997 demonstration farm, and Marshall ryegrass was seeded into several fields in the late summer of 1997 including several stands of alfalfa-orchard grass. However, two fields were selected to collect data for this demonstration.

The field to be grazed was seeded July 30, 1997, into corn 24-30 inches tall. The seeding was broadcast with 30 pounds of seed blended in 100 pounds of 17- 17-17 per acre. At silage harvest the first week of October, the ryegrass was 20 inches tall but spotty due to the drought year. Silage harvest ran down the grass, but after picking it back up with a tedder, the heifer group grazed two rotations lasting until January 1, 1998.

Spring grazing by lactating cows was initiated the last week of March and maintained on an intensive schedule until the second week of June. At this time cows were rotated onto other fields to graze regrowth after haylage cuttings or more thorough grazing by the heifer group.

Three applications of urea totaling about 150 pounds of nitrogen were made from mid-March to late May. Analyses of the first five grazing rotations are summarized below:

Graze # 1

CP

ADF

NDF

NEL

RFV

4/03

20.5

23.5

46.9

.76

140

4/14

20.1

22.7

45.7

.80

145

4/22

20.1

23.8

43.9

.79

149

5/08

24.1

24.0

44.2

.78

148

6/02

16.3

31.8

59.5

.69

100

The haylage field was seeded September 6, 1997, by broadcasting 30 pounds of seed blended in 100 pounds 17-17-17. The first haylage cutting was made the first week of November with an estimate yield of a little over one ton of dry matter per acre.

Spring haylage harvest began on April 4, 1998. Fertilization was similar to the pasture system. Haylage cuttings were maintained close to the recommended optimum of 20 days. Haylage analyses are as follows:

Haylage # 1

CP

ADF

NDF

NEL

RFV

4/04

24.1

23.3

43.4

.77

152

4/23

19.7

24.7

42.1

.81

154

5/14

21.1

31.5

51.1

.69

117

6/03

23.5

29.4

51.4

.72

120

6/26

15.7

35.7

61.7

.64

92

Mark Strite Farm

Marshall ryegrass was seeded in September of 1997 after corn silage harvest. Manure was applied prior to seeding. The field was grazed in the fall, and spring grazing began on March 30, 1998. Fertilizer was not applied until April 6. This application was 50 pounds of nitrogen. Forage analyses are summarized on the following page.

 

CP

ADF

NDF

NEL

RFV

Graze #1

4/08

11.6

21.1

35.6

.82

189

Graze #2

4/20

26.5

21.8

42.8

.81

156

Graze #3

5/08

20.6

31.6

58.6

.69

102

             

Hay #1

5/28

10.0

38.2

62.7

.62

92

(after 2 grazings)

Hay #2

5/28

14.8

31.2

54.4

.70

110

(after 3 grazings)

Craig Leggett Farm

Marshall ryegrass was seeded into a failed soybean stand on August 20, 1997, with a no-till drill at a rate of 30 pounds of seed per acre. Dry weather delayed emergence. No fall harvest was made.

Fifty pounds of liquid nitrogen fertilizer applied mid-March and a hard frost on March 20 resulted in a significant burn on the ryegrass foliage. By April 3 it had grown out of the burn. The analyses of the two spring haylage cuttings are as follows:

   

CP

ADF

NDF

NEL

RFV

Haylage #1

4/14

16.3

22.8

41.7

.80

159

Haylage #2

5/18

12.9

32.1

56.1

.68

106

Sam Winters Farm

Marshall ryegrass was seeded in late September. The goal was to graze heifers on the grass in the spring. Wet conditions in the field foiled those plans. Fifty pounds of nitrogen were applied in early April and another application was made in late May. Analyses of the two cuttings are on the following page.

   

CP

ADF

NDF

NEL

RFV

Haylage #1

5/01

10.9

28.4

49.4

.73

126

Hay #2

6/24

11.0

33.1

57.7

.68

102

Carl Hendershot Farm

Marshall ryegrass was seeded into several fields in late summer of 1997. The straight ryegrass seeding received 46 pounds of nitrogen. Both the straight seeding and seeding in alfalfa were grazed in the fall.

Several forage analyses are as follows:

   

CP

ADF

NDF

NEL

RFV

Ryegrass and Alfalfa

4/09

30.1

21.1

32.0

.79

211

Ryegrass Haylage

4/24

19.0

20.1

41.8

.84

163

John Horst Farm

Several fields were seeded to Marshall ryegrass in September 1997 including straight seeding and no-till seedings in alfalfa and alfalfa-orchard grass.

Forage analyses are as follows:

   

CP

ADF

NDF

NEL

RFV

Pasture, Ryegrass-Alfalfa-Orchard grass

4/20

27.4

23.3

46.7

.79

141

 

5/05

14.1

26.9

44.8

.75

141

Pasture, Ryegrass

5/14

13.6

29.0

47.8

.73

129

Haylage, Ryegrass-Alfalfa

4/27

16.2

24.1

43.2

.78

151

Pasture, Ryegrass-Alfalfa

5/19

23.6

24.6

45.1

.78

144

Demonstration Observations

Seeding

Marshall ryegrass seeding should occur early enough to establish a good stand before winter or provide adequate fall growth to harvest as pasture or haylage before winter. Seedings made early to mid October seem to provide time before November weather and freezing nights stop further growth.

The mild fall of 1997 allowed October 1 seedings to attain enough growth to be grazed by late November. This is not to be expected every year. The optimum seeding date seems to be around September 1. This allows significant fall growth and avoids most late summer heat and potential for drought stress. Seedings made in August 1997 waited until early September rains to germinate and grow, regardless of whether they were broadcast or no-tilled.

The seeding made in standing corn on the Myron Martin farm received several rains other areas did not receive. Additional seedings in standing corn are being observed during the 1998 growing season on the Martin farm and a Western Maryland Research and Educational Center.

Recommended seeding rate is 30 pounds per acre. Good stands have been achieved with broadcast seed on uncultivated soil or on cultivated soil followed by a cultipacker or with no-till. Aim for a seeding depth of inch.

Fall Management

Seedings made in early October may require little fertilizer to attain the three to four inches of growth required to go into winter as we saw at the research farm. However, earlier seedings can use up to 50 pounds of nitrogen to produce a late haylage cutting or fall grazing.

If soil conditions permit, fall grazing may be to initiated when the ryegrass is about six inches tall. Fall growth is not as rapid as spring growth, so we move animals quickly to avoid over-grazing or simply stockpile growth until November and graze once using an advance break wire.

Allow four to six inches of initial growth or graze down to three inches to protect the ryegrass crowns over the winter. Any additional growth over this will likely be frozen by winter cold and will be wasted anyway. Excessive fall growth could become matted under snow and damage the stand before spring growth is initiated.

Seeding Marshall ryegrass into other forage crops has met with mixed results. Since this annual ryegrass is a cool season grass, its best growth periods correspond to the same peak growth periods as bluegrass, orchard grass or fescue. We have had some favorable results seeding Marshall ryegrass into other grasses if those grasses are first suppressed with a light application of Gramoxone at pint per acre or less depending on grass stand and species. Otherwise, the annual grass seedling does not compete well with the established perennial grass.

A seeding made in a good stand of timothy provided some ryegrass grazing in early spring. But once the timothy began to grow more rapidly, the ryegrass was overwhelmed.

Another seeding was made in barley. The ryegrass grew with the barley but did not outgrow it. After the first haylage cutting, the ryegrass grew back while the barley did not.

Several seedings were made in alfalfa stands to be harvested by grazing or for haylage. The grazing mixes seemed to work well as the ryegrass grew with the alfalfa for a good mix of grass and legume for fall and spring pasture.

Seedings made in alfalfa or alfalfa grass mixes for haylage again grew with the alfalfa in height but really made a thick stand of forage. Several dairy producers harvested the first cutting of ryegrass and alfalfa in late April for peak forage quality then resumed a 30-day cutting schedule.

Spring Management

Marshall ryegrass can be grazed in the spring as soon as it is six inches tall. Waiting until later will reduce quality and make it difficult to keep up with a well fertilized flush of spring growth. A 10-12 day rotation will provide top production in terms of growth and quality.

One of the common mistakes observed on many farms was trying to graze too many acres and allowing the grass to become too mature. Surplus grass in April, May and even June should to be removed as haylage to allow maximum regrowth potential. Once the grass begins to form a seed head and the joint of that stem pushes up from the plant crown, the dry matter accumulation or growth curve and quality begins to decrease.

Farmers set up to make round bale haylage can manage small acre harvests and maximize the growth of this grass.

Haylage harvest should be initiated when the first growth is 15 to 20 inches tall. After the first cutting, a 20-day harvest schedule is required for top forage quality for lactating cows. Obviously top forage quality is not as critical for grazing bred dairy heifers or beef cows. In fact, the dairy heifer group can be very effective in gleaning fields after the lactating cows have grazed through.

Peak ryegrass growth and forage quality is very dependent upon nitrogen (N) fertilizer. Manure nitrogen will provide some nutrition to the grass. However, its rate of release is too slow to maintain the best growth in this annual ryegrass. A quick release N is required. Good results and regrowth have been achieved with dry urea applied at a rate of about 100 pounds (46 lbs. N) per acre. The first N application should be made 15 to 20 days before the expected first cutting. An additional 50 pounds of N should be applied immediately after each cutting of haylage to provide maximum growth for the next cutting. Under grazing, apply 50 pounds of N about every other rotation for best results. We have also noticed a marked difference in protein analysis if N fertilizer is not applied on a regular basis. On the Mark Strite farm, an N application boosted crude protein from 11.6% on the first grazing to 26% on the second grazing.

This ryegrass can be harvested as dry hay as soon as we have dry haymaking weather. In fact, this grass effectively allows a producer to seed a crop in the fall and make dry hay the following spring. Several farms delayed hay harvest until mid or late May. Forage quality was not acceptable for lactating cows.

Each farmer will need to choose how long to graze or cut haylage from the ryegrass before replanting the field to corn, soybeans or a milo soybean mix. The weather each season will also weigh in this decision.

If the first haylage harvest is taken April 15, the second will be May 5 and the third May 25. Each spring will be different, but planning a 10-12 day grazing rotation and a 20 day haylage cutting schedule will allow producers to plan their subsequent plantings and crop rotations.

Another problem on some farms has been controlling ryegrass regrowth before planting the next crop. Marshall ryegrass is an aggressive annual grass. Producers have attained good control allowing several inches of regrowth and spraying either Roundup or Gramoxone before seeding the next crop. Under active growing conditions, regular burndown rates are adequate. Producers are not getting control on regrowth with preemergent residual herbicides.

Post applied grass herbicides will provide effective control also.

Summary

Each farm situation makes a separate story, and there is certainly not space to repeat everything here. However, this demonstration was able to document the repeatability of growing Marshall ryegrass and producing significant yields of high quality forage from the crop.

This is a winter annual crop. When seeded in late summer, it has an active growth period in September and October while growth will slow and stop in November. Its spring growth is primarily in April and May with the growth curve slowing through June and stopping in early July. This ryegrass can be effectively harvested as pasture, haylage, or dry hay. Quality and yield will depend upon the farm’s requirements and the management applied.

With a well-fertilized September 1 seeding, we can expect the production of 1-1 tons of dry matter before winter. An aggressive spring harvest schedule and 150 pounds of N properly applied in three applications will produce another 3-4 tons of dry matter from April into June.

This ryegrass performs best in straight seedings. However, in some situations it may be advantageous to interseed into thinning pastures or into alfalfa fields to supplement forage production.

Animal performance is a function of forage quality. According to the forage analyses provided in this report, many farms were very efficiently producing milk by grazing Marshall ryegrass both in the fall of 1997 and the spring of 1998. On farms using TMR feeding systems, dairy producers reduced TMR feeding from 30% to as much as 60% while maintaining or increasing milk production. In April and early May, this pattern of maintaining or increasing milk production by grazing high quality Marshall ryegrass remained true regardless of whether the cows were averaging 55 pounds of milk or 75 pounds of milk. The replacement of TMR feed included the direct replacement of grain by Marshall ryegrass. Further, a number of farms under good grazing management reduced, or removed supplemental protein from the ration. Other farmer comments include improved udder health, feet and leg problems reduced and better reproductive performance. These factors are more likely attributed to getting cows out on pasture and not to any superior nutrient component in the Marshall ryegrass.

This forage crop also makes high-quality haylage and good dry hay if the producer uses heads-up management. One other note: If using round bales for hay or haylage, wrap tightly and tie well. The grass is fine and slippery but will stay put in a tight bale.

The distribution of this demonstration report will assist producers in making better management decisions using Marshall ryegrass in dairy and other livestock operations. More importantly, judging from producer response, increasing seedings will greatly improve producer and crop consultant knowledge and experience. This should be reflected in consistently better forage quality and improved animal performance as Marshall ryegrass seedings in this area increase.


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.