Skip to main content
ARS Home » Midwest Area » Lexington, Kentucky » Forage-animal Production Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #320930

Title: From the Lab Bench: A special use for warm-season grasses

item Aiken, Glen

Submitted to: Cow Country News
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/11/2015
Publication Date: 9/1/2015
Citation: Aiken, G.E. 2015. From the Lab Bench: A special use for warm-season grasses. Cow Country News. Pg. 68.

Interpretive Summary: Cattle producers in Kentucky have a difficult time in meeting the nutrient needs of their cattle in July and August when their perennial cool-season grasses are inactive. A solution to this problem can be by planting part of the farm with warm-season season grasses. High yielding warm-season annual grasses, such as sorghum, sudangrass, sorghum x sudangrass hybrids, and pearl miller can generate high-quality hay or forage for grazing. Another warm-season annual grass that often volunteers in perennial grass pastures in late spring or early summer crabgrass. Crabgrass is oftentimes a noxious weed when establishing a grain crop or lawn, but not in a grazed pasture. This is because crabgrass has very high forage quality and cattle readily graze it. Bermudagrass, switchgrass, and eastern gamagrass are warm-season perennial grasses that can be planted and managed in Kentucky. These grasses are grown in lower to upper Southeastern USA, but only the more cold tolerant varieties of each should be planted in Kentucky. These grasses should be considered by livestock producers with a goal to extend the growing season and fill the gap in forage growth during the middle summer months when there is a slump in growth of perennial cool-season grasses.

Technical Abstract: A column was written to discuss the uses of warm-season annual and perennial grasses in Kentucky. These grasses are typically planted in small acreages on a farm to provide grazing during the summer slump in growth of tall fescue pastures. Moving cattle from toxic endophyte-infected tall fescue pastures to pastures of warm-season grasses will also be during a period when cattle are most vulnerable to severe heat stress from consumption of ergot alkaloids produced by the endophyte. There are a multitude of warm-season annual grasses available for use in Kentucky pastures. Certain tall growing grasses, such as forage sorghums, sudangrass, sorghum-sudan hybrids and pearl millet have an advantage of providing high yields of quality hay, silage or balage. Crabgrass is a short warm-season annual that has very high forage quality and cattle readily graze it. Eastern gamagrass and switchgrass are tall and robust native grasses that can have moderate quality if cut for hay or grazed in a vegetative state of growth. There is opportunity to plant warm-season grasses on 10 to 20 percent of a given cattle farm as a source of hay or summer grazing.