Read the current Progressive Forage digital edition

1008 PD: Can “Trit” do the trick?

Brandon Covey Published on 30 June 2008

There’s not a whole lot of positive things producers can say about the current feed prices, but it has caused some feed sources often considered “alternative feeds” to get a second look.

I recently sat down with Ron Kershen of Kershen Triticale Consulting to learn a little more about one of those options.

COVEY: Can you give a little background on triticale?

Kershen: Well, it was first released to the public in 1968 on a limited basis. As a forage, we started using it in the 1970s as a grazer. Most of the growth in the dairy industry has been in the past 10 years.

I have several cases of dairymen being thrilled with the results. Usually what happens is the dairymen will say, “Well, this is new; we’ll try it on our dry cows.” Then they progress to putting it in the dairy ration and are happy with the results. Once they get it in the milk barn, it milks even better than the chemical tests say it will, as it is a very highly digestible cellulose.

COVEY: What is the growing season for triticale?

Kershen: The growing season for triticale is the same as winter wheat. Because triticale does not have the disease and insect problems of wheat, it can be planted earlier by several weeks. It can be planted until the first real cold spell of December, when that Blue Northern comes through – that’s the cutoff date whenever that happens.

It also depends on your usage; if you want a lot of grazing to go along with the silage or hay crop, or for a graze-out crop, you want to plant early – in late-August/early-September. If silage is your only consideration, then October is probably the better planting date because you haven’t used water or fertilizer for two months, and the tonnage is the same at harvest time.

So, you have a wide window of planting from mid-August to early December.

COVEY: In terms of nutrition, how does triticale compare to other crops?

Kershen: Research at Ohio State University has said that it’s about 90% the value of alfalfa. For all practical purposes, we’ve found that using corn silage values, we have lots more protein but not as much energy. Basically, when you get down to dollars, it’s approximately the same value – ton for ton – as corn silage. Several universities have found that pounds of milk per ton is approximately the same between triticale and corn. Corn usually has a fairly stable value and is cut during a narrow window of maturity. Whereas, triticale, you can take it all the way from pre-boot to the dough stage leading to different qualities depending on the maturity at harvest. This wider harvest window gives producers flexibility to manage and adjust the quality; do they need it for dry cows? fresh heifers?

COVEY: Why should producers give triticale a second look?

Kershen: We did a budget with Dr. Steve Amosson of Texas A&M. Compared to corn, triticale produced 60-65% of the tonnage, but did it for about 40-45% of the cost. So, it’s very economical, particularly if you’re short on water. Triticale uses winter water and makes good use of irrigation water.

COVEY: Management-wise, what else should producers know about triticale?

Kershen: Triticale is a one-cut or two-cut crop. (You can cut it twice if you cut it pre-boot.) However, when it comes to silage, the main thing is that the triticale must be less than 68% moisture (similar to alfalfa). Compared to corn silage, triticale must be packed a few more seconds per ton. This extra time is for the air in triticale’s hollow stem. We also recommend the other practices you’d normally use: inoculants, covering, a small face exposed, etc. Bagging also works well with triticale and might be a good starting point for a producer who just wants to try triticale in a small amount. There is an extra step compared to corn – it has to be put on the ground into windrows – which adds about a dollar a ton, but we have to get that moisture level down below 68 percent. Most people say the perfect moisture is 65 percent; 60 percent is okay.

Very little triticale is grown for grain feed. The grain, of course, is used mainly as seed for the next silage crop.

So, the main markets for triticale are for dairy silage and graze-out, although some dairymen are better set up to handle it as hay.

Our next big market expansion will be using triticale as food products – similar to those you make out of wheat. Triticale makes a delicious bread.  PD

Brandon Covey
Southwest Regional Manager
Progressive Dairyman

See more articles like this at