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Pearl Millet is a Drought and Heat Tolerant Option for the Summer Slump

By   /  April 27, 2020  /  No Comments

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This article comes to us from our July 2015 issue and shows why Chad Fisher decided to use it in his grazing operation.

Getting ready for mid-summer dry weather for your grazing animals? Pearl millet may be a great annual option because of its incredible resiliency!

Strip grazing millet

Strip grazing millet

Pearl millet or Millet [Pennisetum americanum (L.) R. Br. is a warm season annual grass that is well-adapted to fertile soils. With proper management millet can easily yield around 10 ton of forage to the acre, right when cool-season forages nearly stop growing due to hydric stress. Millet has an excellent quality, with low tannins and high protein, calcium, phosphorus and digestibility levels. Additionally, preliminary [non-conclusive] results of a study conducted in Vermont evidence that its fatty acid profile is similar to that of the diverse cool-season forages in the Northeastern U.S. These benefits show up in the milk or meat of animals that graze it, delivering excellent health benefits.

Millet loves heat and it is drought tolerant but can endure wet soils. It must be established in early summer (by the end of May, beginning of June), at the average rate of 20 pounds per acre. It can be potentially ready to be grazed around mid-July on. If carefully managed, it can yield two or even three grazing rotations until the first frost.

Millet can be used for grazing, hay, silage or green-chop. Pasture management research and observation recommends to start grazing millet before boot stage, when it reaches between 18 and 24 inches high, leaving about 10 to 12 inches of residue. Millet can take a lot of grazing pressure and animals must be allowed to graze a paddock for a few hours per day or, rotated as many times as needed per day. The use of strip-grazing with a back fence is strongly recommended to promote faster re-growth while avoiding damaging it. Prussic acid is not a concern in Pearl Millet but nitrate poisoning can be a problem if, a) high nitrogen fertilization rates are applied, b) prolonged droughts are followed by rain; and c) encountering any condition that kills the plant but not the roots such as, frost, hail, grazing and trampling, etc.

In a study we conducted during 2014 at a farm in Highgate, Vermont, we drilled 7 acres of millet on a beaten “sacrifice” paddock. Millet was exposed to different levels of grazing pressure: light, medium and heavly grazed. In each condition, its re-growth was impressively vigorous, even when plants looked heavily grazed and with little chances of recovering. Here are pictures from our project:

Lightly Grazed Millet

Millet recovered

Millet recovered

Heavily grazed millet.

Heavily grazed millet.

Grazed this hard, you'd think it would be dead!

Grazed this hard, you’d think it would be dead!

But here it is, regrowing anyway!

But here it is, regrowing anyway!

This is an example of the size strip cows were given every hour or two.

Here it is after first frost (Sept 19, 2014), end of the line!

Here it is after first frost (Sept 19, 2014), end of the line!

So, when planning your next cover crop give Pearl Millet a try!

natglc-logo-1Thanks to the National Grazing Lands Coalition for making this article possible. Click on over to see the great work they do for all of us. Thank them for supporting On Pasture by liking their facebook page.

 

 

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About the author

Juan comes from a two-generation pasture-based family farm in Uruguay. He obtained his BS in Agronomy in Brazil, his MS in Plant and Soil Science with Bill Murphy and his Ph.D. in Natural Resources at the University of Vermont. He has experienced interdisciplinary research in grazing management, agroecology, ecosystems goods and services, land use change, conservation policy, green markets, and ecological economics. His work addresses environmental, social and productive aspects of grazing farms, with emphasis on dairy management, ecosystems conservation and sustainable livelihoods in Vermont and New England. In his study, grasslands play a key role because they are complex ecosystems that sustain a vast array of functions and processes delivering benefits for supporting healthy environments and communities.

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