Many options exist to provide livestock with high quality forages for grazing throughout the fall and early winter months. In Kentucky, these options include utilizing perennial cool-season pasture as well as a variety of small grains and brassicas. If managed properly, seeding these annual plants in late summer or early fall can provide late fall and early spring grazing as well as providing a cover crop to reduce soil erosion throughout the winter.

Small grains are primarily used as a grain crop in Kentucky but can also be harvested by grazing or cut for hay or silage. Small grains used for grazing include cereal rye, wheat, barley, winter oats, and triticale. Rye, the most winter hardy of the small grains, grows quickly and can be grazed as early as 4 to 6 weeks after planting. It provides high quality feed when rotationally grazed but palatability and quality declines quickly as stand matures in the spring. Wheat is also very winter hardy and, in comparison to cereal rye, wheat keeps its palatability and quality longer into maturity.

Barley is less winter hardy than wheat or rye and should be seeded earlier in the fall. This crop has lower lignin content and higher digestibility than other small grains. Winter oats do best in the southern parts of the state as they are not as winter hardy and may not survive the cooler temperatures, but provide a large amount of forage in a short time frame. Some producers plant spring oats for grazing in the fall, but they will not survive the winter. Triticale, a hybrid between wheat and rye, is a high yielding crop which is not normally used for a grain crop in Kentucky but provides a high quality forage. Like rye, triticale needs to be grazed or harvested at or before the late boot stage in the spring just before the seedhead appears.

Common forage brassicas include turnips, kale, and forage rape (canola). These cool-season annuals are high in protein and digestibility. They are often seeded into existing grass stands to extend the grazing season and can usually be grazed 65 to 75 days after seeding. Often, a mix of turnips and cereal grains are sown onto corn fields after harvesting corn silage. Turnips can continue growing until temperatures drop below 15⁰F. The roots (bulbs), stems, and leaves all provide quality feed. Kale, which is high in protein and digestibility, has a longer growing season than turnip. If properly managed, this highly palatable crop produces the highest yields and can tolerate the coldest temperatures of the brassicas. Forage rape is very winter hardy but has the shortest growing season of the three. Because brassicas are high in moisture and low in fiber, it is suggested that this diet be supplemented with hay, stockpiled grasses, or another high fiber feed.

Some producers mix cereal rye and/or oats with brassicas at seeding to add fiber to the ration. Radish, mustard, and cabbage are other brassicas sometimes used for forage.

To be successful when utilizing small grains and brassicas for grazing, it is important to use suggested management practices. Planting forage-type varieties which are winter hardy will increase stand success. Seeding date and seeding depth can greatly affect success. A soil test should be performed and fertilizer and lime applied based on the results. It is recommended that 50 to75 pounds of nitrogen per acre be applied to small grain and/or brassica stands used for fall grazing. Rotational or strip grazing should be performed to increase utilization and to reduce loss to trampling. Utilizing small grains or brassicas can effectively extend the grazing season as well as providing soil erosion control through the winter.

Forage Type

Seeding Depth

Suggested Planting Date in KY

Winter Oats

1-2 inches

September 15- October 15


1-2 inches

October 1-October 30


1-2 inches

October 1- October 15


1-2 inches

August 1- October 10

Cereal Rye

1-2 inches

September 1- October 15


¼ inches

August 1- September 1

For additional information on planting dates and rates for annual forages see  Additional options for extending the grazing season are described in .