If you planted wheat in the fall, it’s decision time on whether to graze it out or keep it for grain. This decision is based on many factors, including value of gain for livestock, grain prices, potential grain yield of the field and presence or absence of certain hard-to-control weeds if you decide to go for grain.
Two of these factors are primarily agronomic and two are primarily economic. The potential grain yield of the field is probably the first consideration. The main thing to look at is the wheat stand. Is it uniform across the field? Do you have an adequate plant population? The definition of an adequate plant population varies according to individual situations, but is usually a population of 20-25 plants/sq. ft.
A field with a lower plant population may be worth saving for grain if the stand count is lower, but very uniform. If wheat is to be used for grain, cattle must be removed before the first hollow stem growth stage occurs (usually mid-March). Another major consideration is the presence or absence of certain weeds. The main problem weeds in wheat for grain are cereal rye, rescuegrass, wild oats and Italian ryegrass.
None of these grasses are weeds in graze-out situations since cattle relish them – but are major weeds in wheat for grain due to the high cost of controlling them. If you have cereal rye in the wheat, it will likely be where pasture mixes have been planted in the past.
The next things to consider are economic. If you go with wheat for grain, there will be additional costs that are not incurred in graze-out wheat. You may need a fungicide application and will have harvesting and hauling costs. You will also have to consider the possibility of late freezes and hail storms in the spring.
The production forecast for a wheat graze-out system is to run two steers per acre in the spring that will gain 2 lbs./day for 70 days. The value of each additional pound of gain is forecast to be 70¢/lb. if a producer owns the cattle. This calculates to gross revenue of $196/acre for the wheat graze-out system. Overall, the costs of the graze-out program are estimated at $110/acre for the wheat graze-out system (including vaccinations, potential dealth losses, hauling and other expenses).
The production forecast for the wheat-for-grain system used the Oklahoma winter wheat 10-year state average yield of 31 bu./acre (other states may have higher wheat yields) and projected cash price of $5.30/bu. The wheat-for-grain system gross revenue calculates to $164/acre for that yield and price.
The cash costs for a wheat-for-grain system include use of a pesticide and an application cost of $20/acre. This will be lower if you do not have hard-to-control weeds or need a fungicide application in the spring. The cost will be higher if either of the above situations applies.
Harvest and hauling will vary with yield and location and is forecast to be $35/acre. The costs for the wheat-for-grain system total $55/acre. These figures show that the wheat graze-out system will provide a net return of $86/acre, while the wheat-for-grain system will provide a net return of $109/acre.
While these figures are estimates for Oklahoma and the surrounding states, we encourage every producer to generate their own forecast to determine their particular net return for the decision that is faced at first hollow stem.