Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Planting Sorghum-sudangrass (or Haygrazer) for Winter Grazing

In the past, I've grown sorghum-sudangrass as a double-crop planting after wheat to both cut it for hay and also get a little bit of grazing (that's why it's called haygrazer). Usually I'll bale it about 60-80 days after planting, let it regrow to about 24-30 inches tall so it can be grazed, I'll put cattle in the field until they've grazed it down, and then I'll plant wheat again in the fall.

I'm starting to see some improvement in my cropland from this sort of rotation because sorghum-sudangrass has a massive root system, it shades out a lot of weeds, and has an allopathic effect on other weeds, but I'm still taking a lot of organic material off of the field in the form of hay.  If I could leave all that organic material on the field instead of baling hay, I think I'd see even more improvement.  Only using the tractor to drill the sorghum-sudangrass instead of planting, cutting, baling, hauling, and finally feeding hay would be also be a bonus.

This year, after baling hay like a madman last summer and carefully rationing it out to the cows, I finally have enough hay stored that I don't have to bale as much hay this summer to make it though winter, so I'm going to experiment by planting a small field (~25 acres) to sorghum-sudangrass with the plan of grazing it over the winter instead of being baling it as hay. From what I've read, depending on the fertility and growing conditions, it's possible to winter (Dec-Feb) a 1000 lb. dry cow on a half-acre of frosted sorghum (I'd be satisfied with somewhere around an acre or so per cow).

My cover-crop cocktail test plot experiment would be utilized in basically the same way as this field of sorghum-sudangrass, I'd plant the cover crop cocktail after wheat harvest, graze it over the winter, then plant something like grain sorghum or soybeans the following spring.  If I was less conservative, I'd go ahead and drill a mixture of haygrazer, cow peas, sunflowers, etc. this year, but I'd much rather try a field of only sorghum-sudangrass to see how it works out first.  If all goes well, next year will be the year of the cover-crop cocktail (of course, that's also what I said last year), and it might also be the year of baling and feeding less hay.

I was originally going to plant this field to sorghum-sudangrass right after wheat harvest so I could possibly cut it for hay, then graze the regrowth over the winter, but the weather didn't cooperate with that plan. It was hot and dry for most of July, so I held off on planting anything until it finally rained a little over 3 inches last week.  Now, I should have almost ideal soil moisture to get a halfway decent stand and waiting to plant until later in July might work even better for my plan of grazing this field over the winter.  

Since I'm planning on grazing it after it's winter-killed this fall, if it's planted later than usual (mid-July) it hopefully won't get overly mature which would make a lower quality forage for the cattle (protein levels drop if it is fully mature).  If I can get a little bit of rain at the right time in between now and November, this sorghum-sudangrass should be close to the optimum growth stage (boot stage or so) to make some decent quality winter-killed forage (at least that's the theory).
No-tilling some haygrazer
After all that explanation, today was the day I actually fired up the tractor and planted some sorghum-sudangrass.  

In the past, I've usually planted about 15 lb./acre of sorghum-sudangrass, but I upped the rate to around 20 lb./acre this time to make sure I ended up with a thick stand of grass because I was planting a little later in the year than normal.  I also decided to plant 20 lb./acre because I somehow bought more seed than I needed and I'd rather go ahead and put that extra seed in the ground instead of trying to store it for a year.

Today was also the day the temperature went above 100 degrees, and the A/C hardly works in the tractor, so I'm lucky I didn't melt while I was running the tractor (you know it's hot in the tractor cab when it feels nice and cool when you climb out and it's actually 100 degrees). 

I really need to fix that A/C.


  1. It all sounds good written out here. I hope it all works out well for you this winter. We've had almost ideal hay growing conditions up here this year. Enough rain but spaced out so that you can get the hay cut, dried and baled. It has also been slightly cooler than normal too which has been good for the second crop. I can't remember a July when we haven't seen but one or two 90 degree days and only one week left to go. The forecasted week is only supposed to be in the low 80's.

    1. I hope it works too.

      I think we've only had a day or two so far that's been over 100 (the official temperature was actually 99 yesterday), we've had a dew almost every morning which is pretty unusual for July around here, and we have more grass in the pastures than I've seen in a while.

      It's a whole lot less stressful this summer than when it is over 100 every day for weeks or months, and it hasn't rained for almost as long as it's been that hot.