Livestock producers are looking for forage options to supplement a short forage supply. Planting a perennial forage crop whether a legume, grass or legume/grass mixture at this time of year is high risk and not advisable. Best to wait until mid to late August for any cool season perennial forage crop establishment. We are also past the optimum time to plant annual cereal grains as forages. They establish and grow best in cooler temperatures. However, there are annuals, mainly warm season species, suitable for planting in this early to mid-summer period as emergency forages. Here are recommendations for those annual forages as emergency forages from Mark Sulc, OSU Extension Forage Specialist:
“Corn silage is still the top choice for an annual forage in terms of overall greatest dry matter yield and nutritive value compared with the other summer annual options. Even if planted so late as to prevent grain formation, the feeding value of corn is at least equal to that of the other summer annual grasses, and forage yields are likely to be higher. However, corn silage won’t be an option for every situation, especially if forage is needed before fall.
Sudangrass, sorghum x sudangrass hybrids, pearl millet, and forage sorghum grow rapidly in summer and yield 3.5 to 5 tons of dry matter with good nutritive value, especially if selecting sorghum varieties with the brown-midrib (BMR) trait that produces forage almost as good as regular corn silage (although lower in starch) with very good fiber digestibility. Soil temperatures should be at least 60-65 F before planting. Seeding rates vary from 12 lbs. /acre for forage sorghum to 25 lbs. /acre for sudangrass and sorghum x sudangrass hybrids. Plant pear millet at 20 lbs. /acre. These species can be planted up to late June in northern Ohio. Forage can be ready for harvest in as little as 40 to 50 days. Forage sorghum can produce up to 8 tons dry matter per acre in a single cut. Pearl millet is essentially free of prussic acid poisoning potential, but the sorghum species have the potential for prussic acid poisoning that occurs primarily after frost events. Nitrate toxicity is possible with all summer annual grasses and management steps should be taken to reduce that risk.
Teff is a warm-season grass that can be used for hay, silage, or pasture. Soils should be at least 60-65 F before planting Teff. Plant at a rate of 4 to 5 lbs. /acre. A firm, well-prepared seedbed is recommended for best establishment of teff. The first crop should be ready in 40 to 50 days. It produces 3 to 4 tons of dry matter per acre over several cuttings and can tolerate both drought-stressed and waterlogged soils. More details on managing this forage can be found in a factsheet from Cornell University (http://nmsp.cals.cornell.edu/publications/factsheets/factsheet24.pdf).
Brassica species can be planted in May to early June for late summer grazing or fall grazing by cattle or sheep. These species contain high moisture content, so they should be used for grazing only. Brassicas have very low fiber and high energy and should be treated more like a concentrate than as forage in diets. For more information on brassicas for forage, see the Penn State factsheet at http://www.forages.psu.edu/topics/species_variety_trials/species/brassica/index.html.
Seeding Rates and Mixtures: Plant high quality seed of a known variety, which will ensure high germination rate and avoid unpleasant surprises regarding varietal identity and crop characteristics. Mixtures of summer-annual grasses and legumes such as field peas and soybeans are marketed by some seed dealers. The legumes can increase protein content but only in the first harvest because they don’t regrow after cutting. Legumes increase the seed cost, so consider the benefit of including legumes vs. supplementing with other protein sources.
Harvesting/Grazing Options:With the exception of Teff, dry baling the summer annual grasses is a challenge. Sorghum x sudangrass hybrids, sudangrass, forage sorghum and pearl millet tend to dry down slowly. Chopping and ensiling or wet wrapping are the best mechanical harvest alternatives for the summer annual grasses, while grazing is really the only option for the brassicas due to its high moisture, low fiber content.”
The thicker stems of warm season grasses are responsible for slowing down the drying process and they can present a challenge to wet wrapping and baleage production. Stems can make it difficult to get a densely packed bale and create air pockets that hinder the fermentation process. The stems can also poke holes in the plastic wrap when handled, so provide extra wraps of plastic to help insure anaerobic conditions and check wrapped bales for holes and patch promptly. Planting more pounds per acre is a strategy to try to increase plants/acre, which helps to reduce stem diameter, making plants more pliable when baled.
Contact the Wayne County Extension office at 330-264-8722 for more information about annual forage options for emergency forage.
Rory Lewandowski is an OSU Extension Agriculture & Natural Resources Educator and may be reached at 330-264-8722.
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