A Triticale Success Story: Forage Triticale In The Southern Great Plains Of The U.S.A.

Triticale has been gaining acreage in the United States, now being grown on more than one million acres, predominantly as forage, and mostly for dairy silage. This is especially true in the Southern Great Plains. Google Spearman, Texas, and zoom out until Garden City, Kansas on the North, and Lubbock, Tx. and Hobbs, NM on the South, show up on the map. About 70% of the dairies in this area are now using triticale. This is a semi-arid area that is irrigated by the Ogallala aquifer. It is a diminishing resource that is now governed by underground water districts that limit the amount of water that can be pumped in a given year. Corn (Maize) acres are decreasing as triticale acres increase. A reasonable crop of triticale silage can be raised with 12 inches of irrigation, while corn requires 20 inches (plus rainfall).

In 2005, I was able to obtain the actual budgets of dairymen in Hartley Tx. area on 3000 acres of triticale, and 900 acres of corn. Their awnletted triticale (SlickTrit brand) produced 62% of the yield of corn for 42% of the cost. The savings was mostly on fertilizer and water. As the irrigation water decreased, growers tried awnless wheat, but the yields were not satisfactory. The average yield of wheat silage in the Southern Great Plains is about 10 ton per acre. Triticale averages about 15 tons/a., while corn is at 25 tons/a.. Where water and fertilizer are abundant, the top-end yield for wheat is about 14 tons/a.; triticale – 22 tons; and corn – 32 tons/a.. Dr. Mark Marsalis of New Mexico State University – Clovis, has many years of triticale forage data, showing the pounds of milk produced per acre. One may request a copy of his data at

As dairymen started using triticale in their milk rations, they were pleasantly surprised. Milk production held steady or increased, while milk protein usually increased by a small amount. At both Ohio State University and Cornell University, tests have shown that triticale and corn both produce about the same amount of milk per ton of silage. Dairymen also like triticale’s versatility. It can be grazed until mid-March and still make a good silage crop. If planted early, it can be green-chopped in late Fall, again in April, and a third time in May. It can be harvested at the flag-leaf stage with 18% protein, or after heading at the soft-dough stage, at 10% protein, but with more net energy and about one third more tonnage. Also, the protein content can easily be increased by the use of more nitrogen. This comes in handy when a dairy has excess manure to dispose of on the land. In a school experiment, the daughter of one of my grower friends added nitrogen to potted plants until they died. The top protein reached was 42% in the vegetative stage.

Mission Dairy near Hereford, Tx. uses triticale in an intense management system, taking multiple cuts of the crop. The owner, Mike Schouten, says the reason is simple – “I get inexpensive home-grown protein, and I make efficient use of my irrigation water.” His Fall green-chop has protein as high as 28%.

Marc Gigot and family farm sandy land just South of the Arkansas River in Western Kansas. This is their take on triticale silage -“In our operation, we develop young beef and dairy heifers, and found that triticale makes an excellent roughage for those animals. It fits well within our crop rotation. Having explored wheat, barley, and bearded triticale, we were at a loss until we found the forage triticale now available. Forage triticale is a great asset to our operation. We raise triticale because it is an inexpensive forage to grow that goes in early and comes off early and allows us to double crop as well as make the best use of our water. The product is an excellent silage for our cattle.”


by Ron Kershen

(In honor of Dr. Stan Nalepa – may he rest in peace)

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