Submitted to: Cow Country News
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/19/2015
Publication Date: 10/25/2015
Citation: Aiken, G.E. 2015. From the lab bench: Overcoming limitations of bermudagrass in Kentucky. Cow Country News. Pgs. 74-75.
Interpretive Summary: Bermudagrass is a warm-season perennial grass that has historically been utilized in the U.S. subtropics, but hybrids and cultivars with improved tolerance to cold air temperatures have potential use as forage in Kentucky. The grass will have a relatively short growing season in Kentucky, but bermudagrass can be sown with cool-season annual grasses, such as rye, wheat, and ryegrass, to increase the grazing season. The forage quality of bermudagrass can substantially decline during the summer as it matures, but our research with a cold tolerant bermudagrass demonstrated that the milder summers in Kentucky allowed the bermudagrass to maintain its quality during the growing season. The cold tolerant bermudagrasses have potential use as forage in Kentucky, but should be planted in single pastures and not over the entire farm. Their intended use should be to provide grazing in the middle and late summer months when there is a slump in the growth of cool-season perennial grasses. Bermudagrass would be particularly useful to cow-calf producers that want to maintain the body condition of their cows while boosting the weaning weights of fall-weaned calves.
Technical Abstract: A column was written on the advantages and disadvantages of utilizing bermudagrass as a pasture forage in Kentucky. Bermudagrass is a warm-season perennial with a short growth distribution in Kentucky - May to the first light freeze. There is concern about sensitivity of the subtropical grass to cold air temperatures, but tolerance to freezing temperatures depends on genetics of the hybrid or cultivar. Certainly the productive and aggressive hybrids grown in the lower South, such as Coastal and Tifton-85, will not tolerate Kentucky winters. It is difficult to justify planting a grass that is going to be dormant for most of the year. However, there is an opportunity to expand the grazing season by no till planting rye or wheat, or a rye-wheat mixture into the bermudagrass sod. These can be planted as early as August 15 to obtain late fall grazing if rainfall is adequate. Bermudagrass can substantially decline in quality during the hot months of July and August. Part of this is because subtropical grasses, like bermudagrass, can become very stemmy and fibrous as air temperatures increase. Our research has shown that dry matter digestibility and crude protein of these more cold tolerant bermudagrasses will decline, but our milder summers can keep them from having the dramatic declines in forage quality. Bermudagrass must be utilized to meet a specific purpose for any cattle operation in Kentucky.