The difference between a beard, awnlette and/or dwarf beard can be a point of confusion for growers and seed vendors. This page should help clarify how a beard and awnlette are defined. It should also help growers understand what they are buying, and how to manage expectations as their crops grow.
Small grains like barley, wheat and triticale often have a beard, or a bristly spike that protrudes from the seed shell and protects the seed kernel. They can grow as long as five inches in some varieties. Varieties that don’t have a beard are referred to as awnless or beardless varieties. Some varieties are not completely beardless, but have an awlette or dwarf beard.
Beards can be problematic. They “catch” considerably more wind in inclement weather, resulting in higher risk of lodging, and bearded varieties are more dusty during harvest. When bearded varieties are fed they increase the risk of eye and respiratory complications, so some farmers gravitate toward the beardless or awnletted varieties.
The majority of the varieties we sell are considered awnletted. In other words, they express a short beard of some kind. A dwarf beard or awnlette is a reduced awn, awnlette, dwarf or reduced beard or short spike. Dwarf beards can range from .25 to 2.00 inches long, but generally average between .75 and 1.00 inch. In some varieties it means that some of the heads will be completely beardless and others will express an awnlette. In other cases the bottom half of the head will be beardless, but short spikes and awnlettes will begin to express moving up the head and getting longer the closer they get to the tip of the head.
Our Fall Forage Blend is advertised as an awnletted or dwarf beard product. It always has one or more varieties described as beardless. We frequently use varieties that are marketed as completely beardless, but even those varieties will have a small percentage of plants that will express a beard of some kind.
Weather has an effect on beard expression. Baldwin Barley is defined as an awnletted variety but will express a full beard if it is planted after 10 October. Some varieties express beards differently based on environmental conditions when they vernalize. High heat, drought or excessive water will also have effect beard expression.
Even beardless varieties will occasionally demonstrate some beard expression. FX 1001 Triticale, for example, is defined as a “nearly beardless” variety. In test trials 97% of the heads (9,700 out of 10,000) were completely beardless. The remaining 3% expressed a short dwarf beard or awnlette.