Feeding cereal grains to livestock: winter rye

Winter rye is suitable for grain or as an early forage crop. Rye sown in the autumn is drought-tolerant and very hardy. It can withstand low temperatures and starts growing early in the spring.

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Feeding winter rye

Rye grain has similar feeding value to barley. It is high in energy and starch and has modest protein content. However, it has high fibre content. Levels of calcium and vitamins A, D and E are low. Rye is very prone to shattering when processed and can be less palatable than other cereals.

Rye is susceptible to ergot. Toxicity problems, sometimes resulting in death, can occur if the ration contains more than 0.1% ergot bodies by weight.

Winter forage rye can be used for early grazing of cattle and sheep but matures quickly and becomes indigestible and unpalatable if not grazed effectively.

Strip-graze from late February onwards or when the crop is 15 cm high, moving the electric fence daily where practical. As a general rule, 1 ha of forage rye will provide two weeks’ grazing for 25 suckler cows and calves or 50 to 60 ewes and lambs.

After the first grazing, the field can either be left and the regrowth grazed, or cultivated and drilled with a late-spring sowing of forage maize or spring cereals. It can also be ‘zero grazed’ or cut and baled as late-season forage.

Table 5. Average nutrient composition of dry rye grain (% in DM or MJ/kg DM for ME)

86 13.5 11.6 38 2.7
Starch Sugars Ca P Mg
45 3 0.06 0.5 0.1

Growing winter rye


Largely grown on light, low-fertility, sandy or stony soils not suited to other cereals.


Typical yield is 9.4 t/ha.


See ahdb.org.uk/rl for recommended varieties.

Sowing time

Mid-September to the end of November.


Carry out routine soil tests every three to four years to check pH, P and K. More information is available in the or consult a FACTS-qualified adviser.

Weed control

Options can be limited as there are fewer herbicides approved for use on rye than wheat.

Pest control

Wireworms, leatherjackets, aphids and slugs are common pests. See AHDB Encyclopaedia of pests and natural enemies in field crops.


Powdery mildew, brown rust and ergot. For identification, see AHDB/BASF The encyclopedia of cereal diseases.

Useful links

Recommended Lists for cereals and oilseeds (RL)

Nutrient Management Guide (RB209)

Encyclopaedia of pests and natural enemies

Encyclopaedia of cereal diseases