Cereal rye is one of the most common and popular cool-season annuals to plant for grazing. It is the most cold tolerant of all the cool-season annuals. It is best to use a no-till drill to plant cereal rye, but broadcasting the seed is also an option.
Annual ryegrass is very easy to establish even when the seed is broadcasted due to the size of the seed. If allowed to go to seed it will reseed itself for next year. Annual ryegrass can persist well into the spring which can hurt your warm-season perennial grass during green-up.
Triticale is a cross between wheat and cereal rye making it leafy, high yielding, and cold tolerant. Because of its cold tolerance, triticale will be productive in the early and late winter months. Similar to cereal rye, planting with a no-till drill is best but the seed can also be broadcasted.
Oats are a good addition to a cool-season annual mix because they can produce a lot of biomass in a short period of time. They grow best in cool, moist conditions. Spring oats, if planted in the early fall can be utilized for late fall grazing but will most likely get killed if temperatures drop into the teens for a few days in a row. Spring oats can also be planted in the later winter for early spring grazing. Winter oats have better cold tolerance and are usually more productive in the spring than in the fall. Due to the size of oats, it is best to use a no-till drill to plant them. If broadcast, there is a low likelihood of good establishment.
When considering adding cool-season annuals into your grazing system, it is important to also consider fertilization. It is critical to put down nitrogen at or shortly after planting, 40 to 50 pounds per acre, which will help with tillering (thickness of the stand) and can lead to earlier grazing. Another application of nitrogen should be applied in mid-January to early-February of 25 to 50 pounds, depending on the need for forage at that time. If you decide to put out annual ryegrass another nitrogen application could be warranted in the early spring. Potassium and phosphorus should be applied according to your soil report. It is important to get any recommended lime out 3 to 6 months prior to planting to be sure the soil pH is correct.
Terminating the cool-season annuals also needs to be considered. If cool-season annuals continue to produce too late into the spring, it will interfere with your warm-season perennial grass as it's breaking dormancy. This can delay green-up and lead to a reduced stand of grass. Most people will make an application of glyphosate when the warm-season perennial grass is still dormant before green-up, usually around early March, at a rate of 16 to 32 ounces per acre. Another option is to allow the cool-season annuals to be grazed below 3 inches which will greatly reduce their ability to regrow.
Seeds for cool-season annuals can be purchased from multiple different seed companies. Seed can be ordered online. You can also work with your local sales representative or feed store to buy seed. Read the label for the recommended seeding rate and seeding method to get the best results. You can also take a look at the Planting Guide for Forage Crops in NC for recommended planting dates and seeding rates for your area of the state. The Sandhills falls into the Coastal Plains area. If you have more questions about incorporating cool-season annuals into your management system, contact your local livestock Extension agent.