Warm-season grass as a livestock feed during the drought

Many areas in Michigan are experiencing severe drought this summer including a very long stretch of hot and dry weather.

Switchgrass and perennial ryegrass

During this drought period, perennial warm-season grass, such as switchgrass, is still green and growing. Warm-season grasses are very responsive to warming climate (90 – 95 degrees F). Since there is no guarantee on the weather each year, it might be wise to consider planting warm-season grass as an emergency crop for livestock to deal with the drought period. This strategy may help reduce the risk of relying on cool-season forage crops when the hay shortage occurs. With one cutting, 1.5 to 2.0 dry matter tons per acre can be produced if switchgrass is harvested in late boot to early head stage. Switchgrass can be planted in both spring and late summer and planting in late summer might be better in terms of weed control. Seeding rate ranges from eight to ten pounds of PLS (pure live seed) based on germination rate and purity.

There are two different ecotypes of switchgrass: upland vs. lowland. Upland ecotype varieties (for northern climates) are winter hardier than the lowland ecotype varieties (for southern climates). Since seed size is very small, seeding depth should be in the range of one quarter to one half inches. Switchgrass can be grown well on medium to high fertility soils that are moderately fine textured, well to moderately well drained and in soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. Based on a small plot variety trial in the Eastern Upper Peninsula where the soil is heavy clay, switchgrass was still established with conventional tillage. Small grain drills or no-till drills can be used for planting switchgrass. No nitrogen or manure application is recommended during a seeding year to minimize the competition with weeds. If switchgrass is being seeded in late summer, no cutting is recommended during the seeding year to have better snow cover. Switchgrass varieties such as Cave-in-Rock or Carthage are recommended in Michigan.

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