Pasture Management: Perennial or Annual Forages?

One of the questions grazing farmers often ask are, what type of forages will grow well on their farms or, which will best suit their livestock?  It’s probably no surprise that the simple answer is “lots of them!” as opposed to one or two annuals. Thus, most grazing farmers should aim for as much forage diversity as possible, trying different arrangements and combinations. When several species are present, the diversity and competition among them will build pasture’s resiliency.  Different species will be able to thrive under different conditions and animals will be better able to withstand unexpected events such as an extended drought, or heavier than normal rains. In general, the highest benefits come from perennial species, because they are able to re-grow after being sheared by a machine or grazed by animals. When well-managed, perennial pastures can and will yield excellent production. The greater the variety of perennials in your pastures, the better the nutrition and the chance that it will last through the growing season, helping diversify your herd’s diet without significantly increasing costs. What species to use? An ideal forage pasture sward should include three main categories: grasses, legumes, and forbs. In general, legumes provide proteins, (which are the building blocks for animal growth), and increase total digestible nutrients (TDN

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4 thoughts on “Pasture Management: Perennial or Annual Forages?

  1. Generally, do warm-season annuals need to be planted in their own plot or paddock, or can they be interplanted in any way with cool-season perennials? E.g. via pre-grazing broadcast, or no-till drilling on cropped pasture, etc.

    1. You can do both. They can be inter seeded (broadcasted within existing cool season perennials), using animals to pre-graze and walk over seeds to promote better seed-to-soil contact.

      There will be competition from existing species, and establishment will not be 100% but is the most inexpensive method requiring only seed and maybe some diesel fuel.

      In the ‘summer dip’ –due to water stress-, existing cool season grasses really slow down and is the opportunity for these warm season annuals to take over until temps start lowering (and they will die the first day of frost).

      In the case of Pearl Millet for instance, if you plant them in early June, they can last two (maybe three) rotations. Graze when it reaches around 24 in, and leave 10-12 in of residue. Strip grazing with a back fence is a must, for rapid regrowth and to reduce post-grazing damage.

      Around mid September, dormant cool season forages may have another chance to be grazed again.

    1. Kristen,

      Thank you for pointing that out.

      While I mention warm season annuals (C4 species), “Pearl Millet”, “Sorghum” and “Sorghum-Sudan”, which are tropical and subtropical, the article did not intend to cover worldwide forages. It was originally written for the conditions of Northeastern US.

      Although cool season species mentioned are present in, or apply to most temperate places, the take-home message of the article is for farmers to manage for a variety of forages to reduce risks and uncertainties in livestock farming.

      Best,
      J.A.

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