Grazing by cattle should not be initiated until wheat plants have developed a secondary root system. The secondary root system prevents the plants from being pulled out of the ground during the grazing process. Likewise, grazing should be avoided if wet or waterlogged soil conditions persist during the fall grazing window. Damage from hoof traffic and the associated compaction can be just as detrimental to wheat grain yield as the grazing itself (Figure 6.6). Some farmers plant areas of cool-season annual pasture adjacent to dual purpose wheat fields to serve as an area that can carry cattle during brief periods of wet or waterlogged soil conditions.
Cattle should be removed from wheat pasture at the first hollow stem stage of growth. Cattle weight gains after this point will not offset decreases in wheat yield caused by continued grazing.Wheat is at the first hollow stem stage of growth when 1/2 inch (about the diameter of a dime) of hollow stem is present below the developing grain head (Figure 6.7). Since grazing delays wheat development, growers must check for first hollow stem in a non-grazed area of the field planted at the same time to the same variety. Varieties can differ by as much as three weeks in when the first hollow stem occurs.
Figure 6.6 Compaction and plant damage resulting from hoof traffic during wet or waterlogged conditions reduces head numbers at harvest and wheat grain yield.
Figure 6.7 The first hollow stem stage is characterized yield caused by continued growing by 1/2 inch (about the diameter of a dime) of hollow stem being present below the developing wheat head.