Most new crop farmers usually find it quite difficult to choose between cereal crops and forage crops when they are to decide on what to grow on their farmland. I, therefore, decided to write this article as an introduction to both cereal and forage crops. So if you’re new to crop farming, this post would be of great use to you.
What are Cereal Crops?
Cereal crops are obtained from the grass family of plants in which their grains or seeds are harvested to be used as feed. Examples of a cereal crop include wheat, maize (corn), barley, rice and millet. These plants are high in energy. Cereals are used in feeding livestock animals in order to increase their dietary energy intake or to increase the energy level of a ration.
Note: Animals need energy for faster growth (e.g., meat animals) or for better milk production (e.g., dairy animals).
A huge number of cereals is grown every year in some countries such as the United States. In developed countries, a large percentage of the cereals is used for feeding livestock and the remaining portion is used for human consumption. In less developed countries, a large portion is used in human foods while the remaining is used in livestock ration.
When you plant cereals, the main objective is to harvest the grains when they are matured. As soon as the seeds (grains) are harvested, the remaining parts of the plant are either used as a secondary crop or discarded. For instance, you can still make bales of straw from wheat or rice stalks after harvesting the seeds.
What are Forage Crops?
Forage crops are plants, except their roots, that are grown for feeding to livestock. These plants usually come from the grass family, but not all forage crops are grasses. Some examples of forages are guinea grass, forage turnips and alfalfa.
Forages, unlike cereals, have lower energy content and higher fiber content. Due to this, they are used to make feed very bulky. In other words, forages are good at filling up animals and providing a maintenance ration for livestock. If you want to improve the growth or production performance of an animal on forages, you have to also include a good amount of cereal to the ration.
Forage crops can be harvested in several ways. The common methods are haying, grazing, green chopping and silage. Haying and grazing must be done before the plant starts to produce seeds. Depending on the plant grown, green chopping and silage can be done after the plant has started to produce seed. The benefit of this is that the energy content of the feed will increase—for instance, maize silage.
Haying, Grazing, Green Chop and Silage
Haying is the process of cutting off the forage plant just above the ground and drying it in the sun. The “end product” is called Hay. Remember the old saying, “Make Hay while the sun shines.” The hay is then packed together in bales and are stored and fed to the animals.
Grazing is allowing the animal(s) to feed on the plant directly on the farmland. This harvesting method is, without a doubt, the easiest and cheapest because the animal does all the work. Silage and green chop involve the same process but with a clear difference. As for silage, the plant is cut into small pieces and stored in a silo. With the green chop, the plant is cut or chopped into small pieces and fed immediately to the animals.