Perennial Warm Season Grasses as Summer Pasture
Each year more dairy farmers are discovering the benefits of grazing their herds to reduce feed costs. However, the majority of forage crops in North Carolina are cool season, which creates a feed deficiency for grazing cattle during the summer months. If warm season perennial grasses could be added to the pasture forage, the grazing season would be extended, and the dairy farmer could realize more profit by spending less on feed.
The cooperators planted two warm season perennials grasses into a fescue pasture to see if the grazing season could be extended on their dairy.
1) Establish and evaluate cost-effectiveness of warm-season, perennial pastures for sustainable dairy production.
2) Hold a field day to demonstrate the use of warm-season perennial grasses as a component of an intensive grazing system for dairies.
The project evaluated two warm season species, flaccidgrass and Eastern gammagrass, planted on seven acres of a dairy farm that has 80 cows. The grasses were to be evaluated both as forage and as the basis of a feed ration. Evaluation of the profitability was to be determined by comparing the feed costs over the past several years to the costs and returns above cost during the project year.
During the summer of 1993, the producers, working under the advisement of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, the Natural Resource Conservation Service and North Carolina State University technicians, planted five acres of flaccidgrass and two acres of Eastern gammagrass on a fescue pasture that had been in use for more than 50 years.
The fescue sod was harvested for hay, and the stubble was sprayed with Roundup to kill the sod. Once the stubble was dead, a bush hog was used to cut it to about one inch or less. The residue was raked into windrows, baled and removed from the pasture. Seed was planted with a sod drill provided by NCSU. The calibration and seed depth was set by technicians from the university. Insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers were applied according to recommendations from the above agencies.
The stand was a total failure.
After the failure of the warm season grasses, the producers sod-drilled rye grass for winter and early spring grazing on the seven acres. The rye grass performed as expected, providing grazing for the milking herd and, later, the bred heifers.
The producers tested the warm season perennials again in the summer of 1994. Following the same plan as the year before, they killed the fescue sod and removed the residue before drilling in the seed. Again they followed agency recommendations for establishing these grasses. The stand failed.
During the two planting seasons only one Eastern gammagrass plant grew; none of the other seeds germinated. Less than 10 percent of the flaccidgrass seeds germinated and survived. In both years was adequate rainfall for grasses.
In the fall of 1994 they sod drilled Alfagraze into the seven acres. A stand was established, and in the summer of 1995it produced four alfalfa harvests for hay or grazing.
The researchers are aware of a corn silage field that was successfully converted into a warm season grasses, so the two years of failed stands makes them consider the possibility that fescue may be toxic to the grasses they were trying to establish.
Several field days were planned to demonstrate the benefits of warm season forages and how they fit into a grazing scheme. The field days were conducted but the presentations focused on the producers’ grazing program rather than the warm season grasses, since there were no benefits to report. The project field was used to illustrate that graziers may want to avoid trying to sod drill into old fescue stands.