Triticale offers protein, versatility
Triticale, pronounced trit-ih-KAY-lee (or trit-ih-KAYL, if you live west of the Mississippi) has resurfaced as a choice grain for high-protein feed. The crop species, a cross of wheat (Triticum) and rye (Secale), has been around for many years, however, its popularity surges and ebbs. Producers tend to either love and continually plant the crop or give it a go once and decide they have another preference.
Robert Franke, an 84-year-old farmer from Hillsboro, Wisconsin, fits the former. A newspaper ad for triticale caught his eye in 1969, and he decided to plant the protein-rich crop for his cattle. Franke reached out to Dwayne Bye out of Devils Lake, North Dakota, who had placed the triticale ad, and Franke learned that Bye would be coming to Madison, Wisconsin, so Franke and his wife met with Bye to figure out how to proceed. Franke ordered 50 bushels initially, and Bye’s brother showed up with an entire semi-load.
“I stored it and shipped it out,” Franke said. “At that time, we shipped seed air freight. It was cheaper than by truck. Between Duane and me, we supplied seed for practically all states east of the Mississippi River. There were only three states we didn’t sell seed to.”
For local orders, Franke would load his mother’s Ford Galaxy—with the back seat removed and her two friends in the front with her—with nearly a ton of seed to bring to Madison for customers.
Franke relished the crop for its versatility in crop rotations, which were a trend for a while, then fell in popularity.
“We did rotations and planting fall cover crops back in the ’40s and in the ’50s, and in about 1955, from then on, people began to think they could plant corn on corn on corn, just adding more fertilizer,” Franke said. “Now it’s reversed back to what it was.”
Triticale provided a spring and fall crop for Franke after a happy accident occurred while harvesting the crop for the first time.
“There was things universities told us wouldn’t work but did. The first year we combined it, I wasn’t used to setting the combine for that kind of grain,” he said. “Some went over the sieves and the next spring, it was growing, so we left it. Then, before the oats were ready, this was ripe and ready.”
Franke found triticale to be hardy and tall, often yielding more than similar counterparts. Due to its lack of hull, the grain didn’t need to be ground in order to be fed.
“Instead of buying soybean meal, which at that time was quite expensive, when feeding oats or corn, producers could also throw a couple shovels full in their bin and had the same amount of protein,” Franke said.
Raising triticale ended for Franke during a series of poor circumstances that started initially with a damp, humid Wisconsin summer, which made for impossible conditions to harvest the triticale, ending in it going to seed.
“What I should have done was disk it into the ground,” he said. While disking a perfectly good crop into the ground isn’t normal practice, no one Franke had sold seed to would sell him any back. He ran into health and other life problems and so triticale and Franke essentially parted ways.
Roger Dikoff, a producer near Hermosa, South Dakota, tried his hand at triticale for only a short year, and while he got a high yield, the low calcium content was a concern for him.
“We put it in for feed. We rolled it up in big bales and ground it,” Dikoff said. “It was ok, there was a lot of tonnage and a lot of stuff there, and it’s just like winter wheat or rye, it competes with weeds well and chokes them out.”
Dusty Pulver also spent a year with triticale, though unlike Dikoff, he plans to replant it. He favors the leniency in harvesting and high yield.
“It was a learning experience; I had to do a lot of reading and studying on it,” Pulver said. “To put it up properly, it had to be in the milk stage, and the first time looking at it, I thought it was in the milk stage. When the heads first start coming out, and you pop it open, there is a white milk inside of there.”
What he was really after was the dough stage, in which that milk turned into a cottage cheese consistency, doughy and soft, a period which lasts about 12 days, he said, far longer than hay or barley’s one to two days to put up.
“The next thing I learned about was nitrates. What I learned from other people is that it’s a crop you want to cut after noon,” the rancher from Ismay, Montana, said. “The nitrates rise in it pretty good in mornings, especially cool, early mornings. I cut it in the afternoon so the nitrates would go back down, and there was a lot of waiting for it to dry.”
As a new manager of the Burk Ranch with triticale already in the ground, Pulver decided to feed it to their replacement heifers and saw great success.
“It’s not like grain where calves will go to it every time and just eat, eat, eat,” he said. “They will kind of limit themselves to it. We started out pretty light on them. We don’t have a feed lot exactly, so we weren’t able to scale it to know what weight we were feeding.”
Pulver estimated how much he fed, starting at approximately two to three pounds per day, which the calves cleaned up well.
“Of course the stalks, they wouldn’t eat those, but the heads, they cleaned up really nice,” he said. “They stayed healthy, and haired up good, gaining a little more than 100 lbs. in two months.”
Pulver’s only hesitance with triticale is a pending a dry year, he said. Triticale often performs better in normal to ample rain conditions.
The grain is nothing if not versatile. Sherry Floyd, of Idaho, pastures her cows on triticale through the winter, renting the field from a neighbor.
“I leave the cows on it until the first of March or when the temperature stays above 60, and it really starts to grow,” she said. “They will green chop it around the middle of May, then plant corn. The neighbors have dairies, so they feed the green-chopped triticale to their dairy cows.”