Winter feed options

As seen in The Land newspaper Winter Sowing Feature, 7 March 2019

As we head into autumn, the focus for many graziers will be what to plant for winter feed when it does rain.


“The mainstay of winter forage in Northern New South Wales are forage cereals, but also in the mix, depending on location and type of enterprise, will be other options like ryegrass and forage brassicas,” explains Tony Stewart, Territory Manager at Barenbrug.


“When planted in the early part of the window (given moisture), forage oats will often produce the highest total dry matter. Australian forage oat breeding has seen a forage yield gain in the order of 30% in the last 20 years,” Mr Stewart said.


Winter wheats are also well suited to the early window and are a good graze and grain dual purpose alternative with some advantages in herbicide options. Some of the older dual-purpose oats will also fit into this category if looking for grazing and grain.


As we get into cooler soil temperatures, as with a late break, it’s hard to beat forage barleys like awnless Dictator 2 for growth in cold soils. Triticale is often better than wheat or oats in cooler soils, and also in soils with pH or aluminium constraints, or waterlogging. Triticale is a preferred choice for whole crop silage.


Forage brassicas as a tool, are now more widely used in Northern New South Wales. Forage brassicas are all extremely high in feed quality but do have some specific management requirements for best utilisation and animal health. Please speak to your advisor about these if you are unsure. NSW DPI has a great publication on grazing forage brassicas. Combinations with cereals or grass are also good for rapes or turnips.


“Swedes and kale are suitable in elevated, mild-summer environments, for building a wedge of high-quality feed for the peak winter deficit. These crops are typically planted 6 months before they are required,” Mr Stewart said.

“Bulb turnips, and forage rapes are typically planted 8 -12 weeks before grazing and may be planted in autumn or spring/summer, depending on situation. Forage rapes have been successfully grown in recent years in non-traditional districts like Coonamble and Moree.”

“Leafy turnips have no maturity requirement, and provide a good, cheap fast feed alternative so long as soils are still warm enough. Planting window is autumn or spring/summer,” Mr Stewart said.


The other option to consider include ryegrasses which benefit from a combination of high total yield, and very high quality. They are also more frost hardy than cereals for elevated regions. Ryegrasses are typically utilised in higher rainfall (tablelands/coastal) and irrigated systems but have been successfully utilised in dryland areas like the Liverpool plains and Coonabarabran districts.

Ryegrasses are shallower-rooted than cereals and will be less able to access deeper profile moisture, if this moisture exists. Their advantage is in animal performance due to increased digestibility and easier grazing management, particularly in spring.


According to Mr Stewart, perennial pastures are often overlooked when thinking in terms of winter forage.

“Perennial forages like winter active lucerne in the inland regions, or deep-rooted grasses like fescue or phalaris, (or sub-tropicals on an early break), will be invaluable in providing feed in the period between when moisture becomes available, and when annual forages are ready to graze. Perhaps for those who are carrying reduced stock numbers, there may be an opportunity, when the season breaks, to set aside some country to establish winter active lucerne or another perennial to form part of the winter forage arsenal for the future.”

When planted in the early part of the window (given moisture), forage oats will often produce the highest total dry matter.

Pictured: Will Sedgwick from Barraba NSW in a paddock of Wizard forage oats April 2018.