Summer annual crops ideal for grazing cattle

It seems that recently there has been new interest by cattle producers in planting summer annual crops instead of letting cows and bulls continuously graze upon grass pastures. When we use the term "summer annual forages," we are often talking about millet, sorghum or sudangrass. 

While no one is suggesting that we eliminate the Bahiagrass or Bermudagrass pasture systems used by just about every stockman in Angelina County, there are definite advantages to incorporating some high-quality annual grazing options. Summer annuals can be a part of the total forage program of many livestock producers. They can provide a plentiful supply of high-quality forage for grazing in midsummer, 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 will serve as the right amount 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 cattlemen on the farm and ranch land for sale in Texas 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 the type of livestock enterprise involved and the overall ROI. The quality of forage provided by summer annuals is usually most profitable when high-quality or high-gaining livestock.

Summer annual crops ideal for grazing cattleDetermining what cattle will graze upon can require more planning than you might think.

The options for summer annuals are plenty and our local producers will need to learn a new skill set to manage them correctly. Some popular summer forage options include sorghums, forage sorghum, sudangrass, millet, and some legumes. Options like crabgrass, dallisgrass, and johnsongrass, despite having reputations as weeds in the minds of some, may also become viable crops to grow in this situation.

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

Sudangrass was first introduced and grown in Texas in 1909, and became an important pasture plant not long after several improved varieties were developed. These have been used widely ever since by country living farmers. Then came the development and introduction of the sudan-johnsongrass types, which are classified as weak perennials.

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 created. These hybrids have resulted largely from grain sorghum x forage sorghum crosses.

Pearl millet (also known as cattail millet) is sometimes grown as foraging material for the same purposes as the Sudan varieties and hybrids. Yields are usually lower than those experienced with Sudan hybrids - except under certain sandy, highly acidic soil conditions in East Texas, as well as 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 cow peas and soybeans grown primarily for grazing and hay.

Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. Contact him via email: cw-sims@tamu.edu

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