Triticum aestivum L.

Field of wheat forage with rolled bale

Wheat is most often grown as a grain crop, but it can be a useful winter pasture and forage source. It is an annual grass that is usually planted at the end of the summer. It overwinters and then starts growing and maturing towards the end of spring and beginning of the summer. It has good winter hardiness and can tolerate a range of soils, but does not tolerate flooding.


Species Selection Characteristics

Soil pH Tolerance: 
Strongly acid, 5.1–7.3
Moderately acid, 5.6–7.3
Moderately acid to moderately alkaline, 5.6–8.4
Slightly acid to moderately alkaline, 6.1–8.4
Near neutral, 6.1–7.3
Soil Drainage Tolerance: 
moderately well drained
well drained
Flooding Tolerance: 
3-6 days
Soil Salinity Tolerance: 
Moderately tolerant, 3–6 dS/m

Identification Characteristics

Growth Season: 
Identification Characteristics: 

Bunch-type grass with upright tillers growing up to 3.9 feet (1.2 m) tall. 

Growth Habit and Stand Life

Growth habit: Erect bunchgrass

Life Cycle: 
Summer annual
Winter annual

Climate and Soil Suitability Zones

Climate Tolerances: 

Temperature: The optimum growth range is 54°F to 72°F. Can tolerate temperatures as low as -20°F, but only for short periods of time. 

Soil Tolerances: 

Drainage class: WD-MWD

pH: Tolerant of strongly acidic to moderately alkaline soils (5.1-8.4)

Salinity: Moderately tolerant, 3-6 dS/m

Flooding: Tolerant only of brief flooding (3-6 days)

Suitability Maps

Suitability patterns for forage species are caused by different factors in different locations. Low winter temperatures limit the northern range of many species, while low precipitation limits the western range of species in the semi-arid west. Low summer temperatures limit the range of species with increasing elevation while high summer temperatures limit the range in the desert southwest and hot and humid southeast. Soil characteristics (pH, drainage, and salinity) also limit the suitability zones of forage species. However, soil amendments (liming and drainage tiles) can alleviate many of these limitations. Thus, NRCS Soil Survey data should be informed and revised by management mitigations.

Nine maps have been developed; 1) 30-year long-term July maximum temperature 2), 3) 30-year long-term annual precipitation, 4) soil pH, 5) soil drainage, 6) soil salinity, 7) combined climate factors, 8) combined soil factors, and 9) combined climate and soil factors.


Cultivars are classified primarily according to their growing season. One variety, Winter wheat, is planted in the fall and harvested in the spring, accounting for nearly 75% of wheat grown in the US. Spring wheat is planted in the spring and harvest in late summer or early fall. Varieties are further classified according to hardness (hard or soft), color (red or white), and kernel shape. 

Dual-purpose cultivars that serve as forage in the late fall and winter and then are harvested as grain the next summer have been developed. Forage-type cultivars developed for pasture, hay, or silage are typically winter-hardy, taller growing, and have a high leaf-to-stem ratio.  

Management Level Required

Suitable Management Level: 

Quality and Antiquality Factors

Quality Factors: 

Quality: Cereal plants produce nutritious roughage for livestock maintenance during winter and wheat forage is as valuable as oat forage. When cut at the boot stage or at very early head emergence, wheat forage is very palatable and has a high nutritive value. When cut later (at the early milk stage of the grain), its nutritive value is lower.

Anti-quality Factors: 

Nitrate poisoning: Like other cereal forages, wheat forage can accumulate nitrates and careful attention must be paid to nitrate content, particularly when feeding pregnant livestock. Ensiling wheat forage is safer than making hay because it reduces nitrate levels provided that the fermentation process lasts more than 30 days.

Bloat: Wheat pastures can cause frothy bloat, which occurs when rumen gasses are trapped in the rumen fluid instead of being removed by eructation. Bloat typically happens on lush wheat pastures, with low dry matter and fiber content, and high protein and soluble nitrogen fractions. These conditions may occur in autumn or early spring. To prevent bloat, hungry cattle should be supplemented with more fibrous forages.

Grass tetany: Hypomagnesemia (grass tetany) generally affects dairy cattle, beef cattle, sheep and goats in the temperate regions of the world when they receive inadequate available Mg in the diet. Wheat forage, like other lush growing pastures, may have a low Mg content after rapid growth.

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