Grazing annuals extends pasture life


SALEM, Ohio – Graziers willing to put in a little extra time can reap big benefits – and yields – by adding annuals to their grazing plans.
Mark Sulc, an Ohio State University Extension forage specialist, says annuals like sudangrass, sorghum, ryegrass and cereal grains are valuable in filling forage deficits in pastures that otherwise may not be able to support a cow herd or flock of sheep.
And a simple seeding can help that pasture be productive all year long.
A little help. Sulc, in a presentation at the Tri-County Agronomy Day in Carrollton Feb. 27, said the most profitable grazing systems are based on perennial pasture fields that are supplemented with annuals.
Graziers should first manage their perennials, then add in annual seedings to fill gaps for year-round grazing, he advised.
Sulc said annuals are most needed for grazing during summer months, and for stockpiling in the fall to feed herds over the winter.
Balance. All the while, it’s important to manage pasture fields carefully, considering how many animals you have to feed, how many acres you have, and what’s planted. It’s a delicate balance.
“You’ve got to think about managing to keep the area vegetative and growing well,” Sulc said.
Understocking a pasture in the spring puts the grass at risk for not growing or reproducing correctly, which can mean poor growth all summer long when it’s needed most.
At the same time, overstocking or overgrazing in the spring will deplete a plant’s energy reserves and make it harder for the plants to bounce back for lush summertime pastures, Sulc said.
Sulc said a good option for managing springtime pastures is to make hay on part of the acreage, fence it off to let it regrow, and put it into grazing rotation later in the summer.
Summertime. Sulc recommended grazing alfalfa during the summer, but cautioned it takes intensive management to keep cattle from bloating from the abundance of feed alfalfa can provide.
Sulc referenced a Kentucky study where yearling cattle grazed alfalfa for about 100 to 150 days and gained up to 732 pounds per head with no grain supplementation.
Other crops Sulc recommends are sudangrass, pearl millet, cereal forages, annual ryegrass, corn and brassicas, like turnips and rape.
Second crop. There are also options for planting grasses or turnips in late July after the oats or wheat harvest, Sulc said.
The grasses can be grazed five or six weeks after planting, and the turnips will mature for grazing in November and December.
Sulc said seeding after a grain harvest can still produce good yields in August and September. The planting also helps stretch perennial growth, like fescue, while the cattle graze turnips, he said.
Other options to consider include planting rye or oats after the wheat or oats harvest, to be grazed in the fall and the next spring; and planting rye, oats or annual ryegrass after corn silage is chopped, to be grazed from fall to spring.
Corn stalks. Another unique grazing option is to graze corn residue after harvest.
Sulc said an acre of corn stubble can support one cow for four to six weeks. Another way of looking at that is to figure there will be about 50 pounds of residue per bushel of grain yield.
Sulc said research shows corn residue is best to graze within 60 days of harvest; after that, extra supplements are needed. Any time corn is visible in the manure, only vitamins and mineral supplements are needed.
Research has also been done at Ohio State in grazing standing corn, Sulc said. Standing corn provides about 220 grazing days per acre at a cost of 54 cents per cow per day.
Shelled corn, fed at 14 pounds per head per day, plus supplement and 5 pounds of hay per head per day, figures at about 84 cents per cow per day.
Sulc said researchers haven’t measured any yield losses due to grazing compaction. In fact, researchers saw higher crop yields in corn that was grazed and then planted back into corn when compared with two corn crops planted back-to-back.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at

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