Summer Annual forages for Cattle

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It seems that recently, there has been new interest by cattle producers in planting summer annual crops instead of continuous grazing of traditional summer pastures. When we use the term “summer annual forages”, we are often talking about crops such as millet, sorghum or sudangrass crops.

While no one is suggesting that we eliminate the Bahiagrass or Bermudagrass pasture systems used by every stockman in the region, there are some definite advantages to incorporating some high quality annual grazing options. Summer annual forages can be a part of the total forage program of many livestock producers. They are used to provide a plentiful supply of high-quality forage for grazing in mid-summer when perennial grasses are often relatively low in yield and/or quality.

Because summer annuals must be established each year, their production costs are usually higher than warm-season perennial pastures. Summer annuals can provide the quantity of forage at a time when it often cannot be supplied any other way. They therefore can serve as a useful part of the total forage program. But if our cattlemen take a hard look at the quality and quantity of grass these crops can provide, it could very well be profitable.

Summer annuals can be used to supplement permanent pastures and enable better management of perennial pastures. Since cost is involved in the production of summer annuals, forage alternatives must be considered in relation to costs, returns, and type of livestock enterprise involved. Potential quality of forage provided by summer annuals is usually most profitable when used by producing high quality or high gaining livestock.

Terms such as grass tillers and ratoon crops become a part of our language. Potential problems such as prussic acid and nitrate poisoning are also issues to address.

The options are plenty and our local producers will need to learn a new skillset to manage them correctly. Some popular summer forage options include sorghums, forage sorghum, sudangrass, millet, and some legumes. Options like Crabgrass, Dallisgrass, and (gasp!) Johnsongrass really sound like weeds but may also become a viable crop to grow.

Sorghums for forage can be grouped into two general categories based on frequency of harvest and use. These are: 1) those harvested frequently as grazing, green-chopping, hay or haylage (Sudan hybrids, Sudan varieties, Sudan-johnsongrass types) and 2) those that are harvested only once or twice during the season for silage, green-chop and sometimes hay and bundle feed (forage and grain sorghum varieties and hybrids).

Sudangrass was first introduced and grown in Texas in 1909. It soon became an important pasture plant. After the original introduction, several improved varieties were developed and have been

used widely. Then came the development and introduction of the sudan-johnsongrass types which are classified as weak perennial.

Forage sorghum varieties were first introduced and grown in Texas in 1857. Many hybrids have since been developed, introduced and widely used. More recently, forage sorghum hybrids have been developed and are in use. These hybrids have resulted largely from grain sorghum x forage sorghum crosses.

Pearl millet (cattail millet) is grown to some extent to furnish forage for the same purposes as the Sudan varieties and hybrids. Yields are usually lower than the Sudan hybrids except under certain sandy, acid soil conditions in East Texas, and in other areas where iron chlorosis is a severe problem. Pearl millet is equal in quality to Sudan and the Sudan hybrids and is more leafy.

Several warm-season annual legumes are used to some extent for forage production. Legume forage is of excellent quality if harvested at the proper time with leaves retained. However, the yield is usually quite low when compared to summer annual grasses. The most important annual legumes are cowpeas and soybeans grown primarily for grazing and hay.

If you’ve heard of some of these options and have some interest, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in Angelina County will be presenting a seminar entitled “Alternative Summer Forages” on Monday, May 21 at the Angelina County Office. This is an evening program starting at 6:30 pm and should be over by 8 pm. Participants will receive 1 CEU for their pesticide license. Cost is $10. Call 936.634.6414 ext. 0 or email cw-sims@tamu.edu for more information.

Author

Cary Sims
Cary Sims
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu

Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.
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