While corn, alfalfa and grass may be the tried-and-true choices for forage feeding, specific circumstances might be best suited for less-common, alternative crops. South Dakota State University forage specialist Edward Twidwell says alternative crops may prove useful as supplements when perennial forage production is low (such as when stands of new seedings are poor), or in emergency drought situations when annual crops may be the only available source of forage.
Examples of annual forages include millet, oats, sudangrass, forage sorghum, sorghum-sudangrass hybrids, and oats seeded concurrently with field peas or hairy vetch. Alternative crops Twidwell cites include soybeans, cowpeas, mungbeans, rape and turnips. In both categories, some crops work best as silage, while others can be baled as hay and/or used as pasture. The use of many of these less-common forage sources can improve nutrition, provide emergency feed, and sometimes stretch the feed value of a piece of land. For example, University of Wisconsin forage agronomist Dan Undersander says seeding a mixture of spring oats and winter wheat in the fall will allow for forage harvest in October (primarily oats), and again in the spring (winter wheat).
To read more of Twidwell and Undersander’s advice on alternative forage crops, follow these links:
"Producing Annual and Alternative Crops for Forage" (PDF file) — Twidwell
"Altenative Forage Crops" — Undersander