Winter Annuals are a great tool used by many to extend the number of days cattle are able to graze throughout the year and cut down on the amount of hay needed. Rye, wheat, oats, and annual ryegrass are all common options that are utilized to gain some pasture efficiency.

Legumes such as crimson or white clover can be added to your seeding mix to improve protein content of pastures and decrease nitrogen fertilization needed. Planting dates varies due to unpredictability of our fall weather. Late September to early October is the ideal time of seeding if we have cooled down. Last October was a difficult time to establish annual pastures due to the hot, dry weather we experience until the end of the month.

The two most common methods of seeding are broadcast and drilling. Annual ryegrass and some clovers are the only seeds that has success as a broadcasted seed due to its very shallow seeding recommendation. Broadcasting success is highly determined by seed to soil contact.

This can be increased by having the pasture grazed or mowed down to 2-4” tall and limited amounts of thatch to keep seed from getting to the dirt. Another common method is to run cows after seeding for them to step on the seeds and press them into the soil for increased germination.

Drilling is highly beneficial for small grains like cereal rye and wheat to be effective due to their deeper planting depth (usually 1-1.5”).

Using winter annuals increase the amount of forage per acre that you are able to use on you farm, however it also increases the amount of nutrients that are being pulled out of your soil. It is important that you plan your fertilizing schedule properly if you are using winter annuals. Soil sampling is the most accurate way to determine that amount and type of fertilizer and lime that is needed for maximum production. Soil sampling can be done through the extension office as well as consultation on how to amend soils to help increase forage production.

An important part of establishing winter annuals that is frequently overlooked is truly managing the grazing being done on those winter annual pastures. To effectively utilize your winter annual pastures requires keeping animals off during establishment and early growth.

Grazing should not begin until the forage reaches 6-8” tall. Overgrazing is a frequent problem with annuals, when ryegrass and small grains are grazed under 3-4”, regrowth is significantly reduced. If grazed too low during cold weather, no regrowth may occur. Frequent rotations can greatly increase the production of your winter annual pastures by allowing proper recovery of grazed pasture. Excess forage should be grazed heavier or cut as hay around April to reduce competition with summer grasses.

When used wisely, winter annuals can greatly increase the amount of forage you can grow through the winter while reducing the amount of hay needed for the season. Proper planning is the key to making the most of the input costs into winter pastures. We are always here to help at the Banks County Extension office.

Ways to contact us are to call us at (706) 677-6230, by email at, or to come by the office at 413 Evans Street, Homer, GA.

Zach McCann is the Banks County Agriculture and Resource Agent.

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