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COLUMN: Summer annual grasses can supply forage needs

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By David Harrison

 Summer annual grasses such as sudangrass, sorghum-sudan hybrid, teff and pearl millet can play an important role for pasture and hay needs. If managed properly, these grasses can provide high yields of good quality forage in a short amount of time.

Summer grasses can be planted from May until the end of July. Planting late, however, will reduce the number of harvests and total yield. The grasses produce most of their growth from May to September while cool season grasses such as fescue, have their main growth spurts in the spring and fall. Growing a combination of the grasses in different fields can improve the seasonal distribution of forages.

If it’s being used for grazing, the plants need to be at least 18 inches tall before grazing. Enough animals need to be placed in the field to graze the grass down within a week at most and then moved to another area. After grazing, it should be mowed to a height of six to eight inches. It may take six to eight weeks before it is ready for grazing again. Grazing can continue until frost.

In addition to grazing, these crops can be harvested as silage, haylage or hay. For best yield and quality, summer grasses must be harvested at the proper stage of growth. Silage or hay harvest needs to be made when plants are in the boot stage.

The disadvantage of annual summer grasses is that they have to be reestablished every year, which makes them less economical than cool season grasses. Animal disorders, such as nitrate poisoning and prussic acid poisoning, can also be a factor with some of these grasses.

More information on summer annual grasses and forage related disorders are available in UK Extension publications AGR-88: Producing Summer Annual Grasses for Emergency or Supplemental Forage and ASC-57: Forage-Related Cattle Disorders. Contact us for copies.