Native grass species Indiangrass and Little Bluestem were planted and compared with Bahiagrass for hay production. Native grasses are more drought resistant and require less fertilizer than commercial forages. Animal nutritional values are equal between both native and commercial forage grasses. Nutrient values and hay quantity were both measured during the three year period to determine if native grasses can be used as a better and more economical forage for hay production.
The area planted in native grass was sprayed with Glyphosate to kill the existing stand of Bahiagrass. The native grasses were planted with a no-till drill in June 2011. Plateau was sprayed at planting. The Bahiagrass plot used in the demonstration was an existing stand adjacent to native grass. There was four acres each of the native grass and Bahiagrass used for the comparison. The demonstration area was sprayed to control weeds and the native grass had to be sprayed with metsulfuron to control Bahiagrass that had come back in 2013.
The native grass and Bahiagrass was measured for tons / acre of standing forage, bales of hay harvested / acre, and nutrient values of both green forage and dry hay.
The primary objective and performance targets was to find a better or a more economical alternative to commercial forage varieties such as Bahiagrass or Bermuda grass. Native grasses have proven their selves as a grazing forage and wildlife food source.
The methods used to obtain results and for data collection for the demonstration research project were as follows:
Measuring green forage yield per acre was achieved by using a forage measuring stick that measured the forage height and then using the indicators on the stick to convert to ton of forage per acre.
Hay production per acre was measured by the amount of 4 x 5 round bales produced on the demonstration area. The tons of hay produced were not measured as most producers buy, sale, and feed hay by bales rather than by weight.
The hay and green forage nutrient values were obtained by taking green clipping or dry hay sample and sending them to the Southeast Research Station Forage Quality Lab for analysis.
The findings from the three year period show that native grass stands are difficult to establish and will not compete well with weeds or other grasses such as Bahiagrass that reoccur in the native grass stands.
The native grasses make better grazing forage than hay forage. This is due to the fact that native grasses has a large stem at the optimum cutting height which causes moisture to penetrate the round bales of hay more rapidly and deeper if the hay is left outside. It cannot form a (thatch) seal as the finer Bahiagrass can. Also at feeding, cattle will eat the fodder and leave the stems lying which eventually build up in the hay ring. Native grasses should work well as haylage forage since silage balers has knives that cut the hay into smaller pieces or it is chopped with a forage chopper.
However, once established, native grasses is equal to or greater in nutritional value than Bahiagrass. Native grasses can achieve this without any commercial fertilizer. The Bahiagrass must be fertilized to obtain either yield or nutritional value.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Outreach activities that were planned for the third and final year of the project was a presentation at a local cattleman’s association meeting and a tour as part of a native grass tour / field day in cooperation with the Tishomingo / Prentiss County NRCS field office. However, the local extension agent in charge of organizing the cattleman’s meetings quit so the county did not have any meetings during 2013. Also, the tour / field day was being planned for either September or October of 2013, but the government shutdown and sequestration prevented the NRCS from having a tour / field day. I could not get enough participation on my own to organize a field day myself. I did however have one-on-one farm visits by producers who were interested in the project.
I used several publications and gave to interested producers several native grass publications produced by Mississippi State University, University of Tennessee Extension, and the NRCS. These publications include UT Extension SP731-A through F; Mississippi State publications IS 843, P 2435, and P 2458, and NRCS publication MS-ECS-327-01.
Accomplishments of the idea of using native grasses for hay proved that it is difficult to establish a stand, it is nutritionally equivalent in value without fertilization to commercial forages, but native grasses do not make as good hay as commercial forages.
This project has helped to answer any questions about using native grasses for hay or how they compare to commercial varieties such as Bahiagrass as a forage and a hay crop.
I would not recommend planting and using native grass solely as a hay crop. It is suitable primarily as grazing forage. Any future projects involving native grasses need to have the native grass stand established before the project commences.