A DIFFERENT KIND OF RYE
Cattle graze on Marshall Ryegrass at Rayford Pullen's Bellevue ranch. The Angus breeder says he has 210-plus grazing days with Marshall Ryegrass, as compared to 175 days for wheat.
Photo provided by Rayford Pullen.
Cernoch, Pullen and Watson are all proponents of Marshall Ryegrass for its longer grazing period, but they've all found other benefits to the grass as well.
Photo provided by Rayford Pullen.
By Katrina Huffstutler
Some traditional wheat farmers now run
their stockers on Marshall Ryegrass instead.
When Louis Cernoch's local feed and seed supplier ran out of wheat a couple of years ago, the stocker operator from Terrell had to make a decision.
The store's owner suggested he plant Marshall Ryegrass instead. While Cernoch had planted the grass in a few spots before with good results, he'd also always planted the majority of his pastures in wheat.
He took the recommendation, though, and was so impressed he planted even more the following year. Next year, he plans to transition completely to Marshall Ryegrass.
Cernoch, who is "constantly buying" cattle and runs about 1,300 stockers at a time — turning them over in about 60 to 90 days during springtime — is a big fan of the extra grazing days Marshall Ryegrass provides.
"It really lasts a long time," Cernoch says. "Way up into the springtime. Even if you cut it down for hay and think you've gotten rid of it, you can still get more grazing out of it, unlike traditional ryegrass."
Rayford Pullen, an Angus producer and former county Extension agent from Bellevue, conducted his own research on Marshall Ryegrass, and also found a significant increase in grazing days. According to the study's results, posted on pullenangus.com, he had 210-plus grazing days with Marshall Ryegrass, as compared to 175 days for wheat.
"If you have a calf per acre gaining 2 pounds per day, and they are making you 50 cents per pound on the gain, then it takes you 110 days to break even on your wheat establishment cost, leaving you 65 days to make a profit. On Marshall, it takes 80 days to break even, leaving you 130 days to make a profit. That's like 2 years in 1," he notes on the website.
Roby Watson, a stocker operator and farmer from Leonard, also recently made the switch from grazing his 1,000 head of stockers per year on wheat to Marshall Ryegrass. He agrees the grass is longer-lasting. He runs 2 calves per acre on Marshall Ryegrass from January on and puts about 2.5 pounds of gain per day on them. While he does fertilize it pretty well, he says he'd have to do that to maximize grazing on any type of forage.
Watson says that the calves also don't bog it as much as they would wheat.
"We live out here in the black dirt and normally cattle will bog grass down pretty bad, and put a lot of tracks in it, but the roots in the Marshall Ryegrass allow it to hold up better and longer," he adds.
Keeping the undesirables out
In addition to the longer grazing period, Cernoch found a surprising benefit to planting Marshall Ryegrass.
He explains, in his country, they've got a problem grass called Poa annua. "I'd plant wheat and I'd get a perfect stand, and then by the wintertime this Poa annua would just choke it all out," Cernoch says.
"By December, you'd have no wheat and you'd be left with this Poa annua that only gets about a quarter of an inch tall. You get no grazing out of it — I don't know if a cow will even try to eat on it."
Last year, he tried everything to get rid of the Poa annua, but had no luck.
"I poisoned it. I plowed it. I tried everything in the world, and just could not get rid of it," he says.
Cernoch decided to plant that Poa annua-plagued field in Marshall Ryegrass to see if it would make a difference.
Did it ever!
He says he had "pretty much zero" of the undesirable grass come up in the field planted solely in Marshall Ryegrass.
At press time, even through the drought, he still hadn't had any Poa annua or other weeds emerge in those fields.
"Now, I don't understand it," Cernoch says, "but it's a fact."
State of mind
He may have only good things to say about Marshall Ryegrass now, but Cernoch admits the whole idea of it was a little hard to get used to — just like it is for many other wheat farmers-slash-stocker operators.
"Ryegrass of any kind has always had a bad name for me," he says.
When the grass starting spreading naturally to his region in the mid-1970s, he and other area farmers and ranchers did everything they could to kill it out in the springtime so it wouldn't complete with their coastal.
"So, anything that had 'rye' written on it, I didn't want it," Cernoch says.
Marshall Ryegrass was the first — and only — exception to that rule.
"It was a big mindset change to go in and say, 'Hey, I would like to try some of this stuff.' And since regular rye doesn't provide any wintertime grazing, it was even harder to believe that this was right. But when we ran out of wheat, I didn't really have a choice. I was forced to try it," he says.
And now he's not turning back. He plans to go completely to Marshall Ryegrass next year, a decision made even easier by the expected wheat prices.
Sometimes change is good.