The dry conditions that have prevailed over much of Kansas since the fall of 2017 have left some wheat growers with relatively dim prospects for grain production for the summer 2018 harvest. An alternative use for that wheat is as a forage crop – silage or hay – which may still have considerable value at a time when pasture grazing prospects and hay supplies may be uncertain.
Wheat silage and hay can both be valuable feedstuffs for cattle producers. Wheat harvested at the dough stage should contain approximately 56-62 percent total digestible nutrients (TDN) and 8-11 percent crude protein, on a dry matter (DM) basis. Wheat silage and hay may be used in the diets of feeder cattle, calves, replacement heifers, and beef cows. However, if the wheat is harvested post-heading, producers should grind the wheat hay if the variety has awns, since awns can cause health problems if fed unground.
Producers looking at these alternative uses for their wheat crops should also consider their options for marketing each type of feedstuff. For those who do not have their own cattle to feed, prospective demand for either silage or hay from nearby livestock producers could play an important role in their decision. Hay is more flexible in that it can be hauled farther and may be of use to a wider potential clientele.
Finally, insured wheat growers should check first with their crop insurance agent regarding insurance requirements to document potential grain yield losses before harvesting a forage crop. If producers believe they would have low grain yields and otherwise be entitled to an insurance indemnity, they may be required to leave small areas of uncut wheat to provide a way to estimate grain yields for the insurance loss calculation. Insurance agents can also inform producers of any other restrictions which may apply.