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Filling summer forage gaps for your livestock

Filling summer forage gaps for your livestock

By Blake Jackson

Livestock producers often face challenges maintaining a steady supply of nutritious food for their animals during the summer months. University of Missouri Extension's Valerie Tate offers solutions to bridge these summer forage gaps using warm-season annual forages.

Planting Powerhouses:

Crops like sorghum-sudangrass and pearl millet are ideal for boosting summer forage production. Under good conditions, they can generate up to 6 tons of forage per acre throughout the growing season. Other options include foxtail millet, Japanese millet, and improved crabgrass, although their yields are lower.

Planting Tips:

  • Timing: Aim for mid-May to late June when soil temperatures reach 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Seeding: For sorghum-sudangrass, drill seeds at 20-25 pounds per acre or broadcast at 30-35 pounds. Ensure a firm seedbed and plant depth of ½ to 1 inch. Alternatively, control weeds with herbicide for no-till planting. Pearl millet requires drilling at ¾ to 1 inch deep (15 pounds per acre) or broadcasting (20-30 pounds per acre) during the same timeframe.
  • Soil pH: Sorghum-sudangrass prefers a slightly acidic soil (pH above 5.5), while pearl millet tolerates more acidic conditions.

Maintaining Quality:

Regular harvesting is key to maintaining high-quality forage. The first harvest can occur 45-60 days after planting. Aim to harvest sorghum-sudangrass and pearl millet when they reach 24-36 inches tall, leaving a 10-inch stubble for regrowth. Letting plants grow beyond this point significantly reduces forage quality.

Nutrient Boost:

Maximize production by applying 60 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer at planting followed by 40-60 pounds after each harvest.

Grazing Cautiously:

Be mindful when grazing during droughts. Nitrate levels can accumulate in the lower stems, leading to potential nitrate poisoning. To minimize this risk, delay additional nitrogen application until sufficient moisture supports rapid plant growth.

Sorghum-Sudan Grass:

An additional concern with sorghum-sudangrass is prussic acid poisoning, which can occur after frost or drought stress. Avoid grazing sorghum species below 24 inches and wait 14 days after any stress event before allowing grazing.

The coarse stems of these plants can make dry hay production challenging due to difficulty achieving the desired 18% dry matter content to prevent spoilage.

An alternative is baleage, which involves wrapping bales with plastic at a higher moisture content (45-60%). The key is to achieve tight, dense bales within four hours of baling and utilize proper wrapping techniques.

By implementing these strategies, livestock producers can effectively bridge summer forage gaps and ensure their animals have access to high-quality feed throughout the season.

Photo Credit: istock-mailson-pignata

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Categories: Missouri, Crops, Sorghum, Hay & Forage, Livestock

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