Time of harvest

Whole crop cereals can be harvested at two stages of growth - at the flag leaf/boot stage to early ear emergence or at the soft dough stage7,8.

Flag leaf/boot - early ear emergence stage

  • The flag leaf is usually the widest leaf in oats, wheat and triticale and is the last leaf to appear before the head emerges. Flag leaves in barley are often the smallest.
  • Booting is defined as the stage when the developing ear is expanding within the flag leaf sheath. The awn tips and ear will emerge soon after.
  • Harvesting at this stage will ensure the best protein and energy without compromising the yield too much. There is a trade-off between declining quality and higher yield as the stem and ears develop. Overall quality declines from this stage but recovers toward the end of grain fill as the starch content rises.

Soft dough stage

  • As cereal grains mature they pass through the clear liquid stage, then become milky, followed by the soft and hard dough stages.
  • The ideal time for this later harvest is when the inside of the grain has a texture similar to cheese.
  • Harvesting at this stage will ensure there is sufficient moisture for ensiling and deliver near optimum yield and near optimum energy. Protein content will be lower than at the boot stage.

Cereal crops should not be harvested at the clear liquid - early milk stage as the resulting silage often has reduced quality and possibly lower palatability for stock.


7de Ruiter, J.M.; Hanson, R. 2004. Whole crop cereal silage - production and use in dairy, beef, sheep and deer farming. New Zealand Institute for Crop & Food Research Limited. ISBN 0-478-10849-4. 33pp.

8When to cut forage cereals. Agnote 1243. Department of Primary Industries, Victoria, Australia. 9de