Animal Science, Department of


First Advisor

Mary Drewnoski

Second Advisor

Daren Redfearn

Third Advisor

Andrea Watson

Date of this Version


Document Type



Calus, K. J. 2021. Small Grain Cereal Cover Crops for Late Fall or Early Spring Grazing. M.S. Thesis. Univ. of Nebraska, Lincoln.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Science, Major: Animal Science, Under the Supervision of Professor Mary E. Drewnoski. Lincoln, Nebraska: December, 2021.

Copyright © 2021 Kallie J. Calus


Beef cattle operations are confronted with early spring and late fall forage deficiencies. Producers in integrated crop and livestock systems can fill forage gaps using cover crops as a forage source in between cash crops.

A five-year study evaluating forage production, growing calf performance and economics of grazing an oats cover crop planted after corn silage (CS) and high moisture corn (HMC) corn harvests was conducted. The economic analysis accounted for costs of establishing and grazing the oats and the value of calf gain to determine fall grazing system profitability. Steers had greater average daily gain grazing oats after CS harvest than steers grazing oats plus corn residue after HMC harvest. Based on this study, grazing oats after HMC is not an economically viable option as it resulted in profit or near breakeven for three out of five years with an average profit of less than $1 per steer. The oats after CS fall-grazing system proved to be profitable four of five years with the average profit of approximately $100 per steer and thus could be a viable option for producers. Within system, weather proved to have a strong influence on system profitability as it impacted oats biomass production, oats utilization and trampling losses, animal performance, and length of grazing, which impacted timing of calves entering the cattle market.

The amount of heat units available in the fall after soybean harvest are not enough to accumulate grazeable fall biomass. Winter hardy species such as cereal rye, winter wheat, and winter triticale are options for fall planting that have potential to provide early spring grazing. A study investigated the grazing potential of these three species in Eastern Nebraska was conducted. The timing of the start of grazing and nutritive value of forage as measured by growing steer gain were evaluated. When grazing in early spring there were no differences in carrying capacity or growing steer gains when grazing cereal rye, winter wheat, or winter triticale. Cereal rye did result in the ability to start grazing earlier.

Cover crops can produce high quality fall, winter, and/or spring forage and possible economic profit.

Advisor: Mary E. Drewnoski