April 18, 2007 | By: Laura Skillman

Farmers looking to salvage something from their freeze-damaged wheat may consider cutting it and ensiling it for livestock feed, but there are several precautions they need to take to avoid causing problems for livestock.

First, farmers considering this option should check the labels on any chemicals they have used to ensure they are labeled for use on wheat for forages. Some chemicals commonly used on wheat for grain production are not labeled for use on wheat that is to be harvested for hay, said Jim Martin, weeds management specialist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. 

If chemicals do not preclude its use for hay, ensiling may be the better option because of the difficulty in allowing wheat to dry enough to bale for hay, according to Garry Lacefield, UK forage specialist. Plants will need to dry down to 50 to 70 percent moisture for proper ensiling. 

Although silage inoculation may not be needed during the summer months, the extended cold temperatures have significantly reduced the beneficial bacteria necessary for proper ensiling. Therefore, UK forage specialists recommend using a commercial silage inoculum for this crop.

In addition to checking chemical labels, farmers trying to salvage a forage crop from the damaged wheat should let the wheat grow at least for another week to help reduce nitrate levels, said UK Grains Specialist Chad Lee. Even though the head may be destroyed, the wheat likely will grow new leaves. The additional growth may also allow a farmer to cut the wheat when temperatures are warmer and more favorable for drying down cut plant material.

Ensiling will also reduce nitrate levels in freeze-damaged wheat by 50 percent. Forage samples should be analyzed for nitrate levels prior to feeding, however, to prevent nitrate poisoning.

Lee said several samples of wheat submitted for testing last week showed levels of nitrates above the “safe for feed” levels.

Nitrate samples can be submitted to the Breathitt Veterinary Center in Hopkinsville or the Kentucky Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center in Lexington, he said. Several commercial laboratories may conduct the nitrate testing as well. Local offices of the UK Cooperative Extension Service can assist farmers with the guidelines for nitrate testing.


Jim Martin, 270-365-7541, ext. 203, Garry Lacefield, 270-365-7541, ext. 202, Chad Lee, 859-257-3203