Our ranch is a family operation consisting of approximately 16,000 acres of deeded and rented land. The majority of our income is derived from our registered and commercial Black Angus cowherd. The cows graze mainly native grassland from late spring until winter. Pasture rotation is utilized wherever it is feasible. We grow irrigated and dry land alfalfa, dry land grass hay, wheat straw, and millet for our winter feed supply. Wheat and millet are rotated with alfalfa to keep production at a high level.
Our cows are fed in a dry lot until late May to allow the grass to get a head start and that helps prevent over grazing of pastures during dry years. Pasture rotation is also used to prevent over grazing and to maintain a vigorous plant. Both of these practices have been used for the last twenty-five years. We have also planted some of our less productive and highly erodible fields to native and tame grasses to maximize production and prevent erosion of our land.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
Goal: Find a plant species that would provide forage for haying and grazing during a drought to keep as many cows as possible and keep grazing pressure off of pasture land.
I wanted to find a plot suitable for planting this type of annual forage and settled on a field I normally would have summer fallowed and planted to wheat in the fall. After doing some research on the species and the fact that the planting depth had to be very shallow I decided to apply Roundup herbicide rather than till the somewhat sandy soil. I applied a light amount of fertilizer to provide enough nutrients for a healthy plant but did not want to over fertilize during the current drought situation. The very small seed was planted with a double disc drill at a very shallow depth on June 10th, which was about the same time you would plant millet in this area.
The seed was in dry soil for about ten days until we received enough rain for the seed to germinate. After a very slow start and some additional rain the plant began to flourish around July 10th. The teff grass grew to a height of about ten inches by the 20th of July. Due to an extended dry spell the teff grass did not grow much for the next three weeks. Then on about August 10th we received a substantial rain. The teff grass responded well and over doubled its height during the next two weeks. We received a total of about three inches of rain since I planted the teff grass.
I wanted good nutritional value in the hay so I windrowed the grass soon after it had headed out on August 25th. The windrowed teff grass was baled up on August 30th, five days after it was windrowed. I got seventy fifteen hundred pound bales for a yield of one and a half tons per acre. The bales were than hauled off so the teff grass would hopefully grow back for fall grazing. We than did get a substantial rain in September and a fairly late frost for this area which allowed for re -growth of the teff grass and some valuable fall grazing.
I was assisted with this project by Scott Cotton, Dawes County Extension Educator, who helped me write the grant and also helped with the field day. I was also assisted by Emory Fox, of Heritage Seed Co., who procured the seed and gave me some valuable information on planting depth.
The teff grass produced nearly one and a half tons per acre which was a half a ton more per acre than the intermediate wheat grass produced that was next to it. As an added bonus the teff grass grew back to a height of about twelve inches after harvesting from an inch of rain in early September. The intermediate wheat grass only greened up and grew two or three inches after the rain. This allowed for some valuable grazing on the test plot during the late fall. I was surprised how well the teff grass yielded and how it grew back with the amount of rain it received.
I sent in a test sample to be evaluated for nutritional value along with a sample of first cutting alfalfa for a comparative basis. The vitamins, minerals and total digestible nutrients were about equal for the teff grass and alfalfa. The teff grass was somewhat lower in protein and slightly higher in nitrates than the alfalfa. The nutritional value is probably close to high quality intermediate grass hay which was what I was hoping for. I fed the teff grass during the winter months and the cattle really liked it. In fact the cattle seemed to like it better than some millet I fed during the same time. They also liked the re-growth and ate it off as far as they could.
Quite a few weeds did emerge in some parts of the fields. I’m not quite sure what I could have done to prevent this without damaging the teff grass. You could probably plant it in some old alfalfa or grass fields other than a wheat stubble field and have less competition from the weeds.
Planting and producing teff grass was a very educational experience for me. It was very interesting to watch this tiny seed mature into a large forage producing plant in such a short period of time. In certain situations I think teff grass could be a valuable forage crop to raise and help feed cows during a drought. I harvested a good crop of hay and got some valuable grazing which helped keep more cows during a year that hay was expensive to buy.
I was pleased with the amount and quality of feed which was harvested from this experiment. The biggest disadvantage of planting teff grass for hay is the price of the seed and the fragility of the seed and getting the plant started. I planted some teff grass again this past summer and got a hard rain after planting. At least half of the teff grass did not emerge from the compacted soil.
In western Nebraska where we have uncertain rain fall I think it would be less risky and advantageous to plant teff grass under center pivot irrigation as a rotational crop with alfalfa. I am pretty sure that some time in the near future we will plant teff grass under irrigation to see how it performs.
I had a field day in October at the plot site which was advertised in the local paper. I had on display a poster showing the Teff at different stages of growth during the summer and explained in detail my experience of growing Teff and the hay crop I harvested. This field day was attended by several local producers.
Dawes County Extension Agent Scott Cotton publicized an article in his monthly newsletter about my experience with the project which is sent to a multitude of livestock producers in Dawes and adjoining counties.
I have attached both of these documents and also pictures I used on the poster I made for the field day. Scott took the poster back to the Extension office to put on display for visitors to the office to look at.
I have told other local producers who couldn’t make it to the field day about my experience with teff grass and will continue to do so in the future. I would also be more than happy to discuss my experience with teff grass if asked by any of the local Extension educators.