Thursday, October 2, 2014

One More Sorghum-sudangrass Update

In the comments of my last post about harvesting grain sorghum (or milo) , Ed commented about seeing something he thought might be sorghum being grown in Iowa and I suggested that it might be forage sorghum being grown to make silage. 

I thought I might have already posted a photo of the sorghum-sudangrass I've been growing this summer that might be similar to forage sorghum, but I was mistaken, so I decided to take some updated photos of my sorghum-sudangrass.   At approximately 66 days after planting, the better parts of the field are putting out seed heads and starting to bloom (if it was grain sorghum, you would call it mid-bloom) and at this point has grown to about 8-9 feet tall.  A field of forage sorghum would look similar except it would probably have a thicker stalk, bigger leaves, and a bigger head.

I see this field every day, but until I looked back at the pictures I've taken of it since I've planted it, I didn't realize how fast it's grown.  For some reason, I wasn't sure there would be enough time for it to grow before fall since I didn't plant it until July 22, but I think I could have planted it a couple of weeks later and still would have been able to graze it this winter (the earlier you plant it, the more forage quantity you'll get, the later you plant it, the more forage quality you'll get).  Or, I could have let the crabgrass grow enough to bale some hay before planting the sorghum-sudangrass.  There seem to be a lot of different options and after this small experiment, I have a few more ideas and a little bit more confidence about how and what to plant next year as a cover crop.

It feels odd to be looking forward to winter so that I can see how it works to graze a field of "standing hay" instead of baling, hauling, and feeding baled hay.  I'm also sort of looking forward to mowing strips in this field so I can run my electric fences across it (there's something to be said about diving into some 8 foot tall grass with a little tractor).

Besides all that, I've also found out that a field of nine-foot tall sorghum-sudangrass sounds almost like a waterfall or a river when the wind is blowing (and the wind always blows here), which sounds kind of cool and almost makes it worth growing some as a cover crop. 

So stay tuned later this fall and winter for more exciting, edge-of-your-seat reports of mowing tall grass and the results of grazing cows instead of feeding hay to cows.


  1. It is interesting to think of grazing the field over winter. Up here, everything is chopped and bagged and then doled out over winter. I suppose it works out that the amount trampled and wasted by cows is less than the fuel and machinery costs for cutting silage.

    1. Locally, from what I've seen, it's not really that common to graze a field of something exactly like this over the winter. The closest I've seen is grazing a field of grain sorghum stubble (which I've done before with decent results).

      Most of the "cover-crop guys" like Gabe Brown and Gail Fuller talk about grazing the cover crop cocktails they're planting over the winter to get the full benefit of the cover crops.

      The way I'm starting to see it (and this is a greatly simplified explanation), it's more wasteful to bale something like this and haul all that organic material and nutrients off of the field. Even if you try to haul everything back to the field in the form of either manure or compost, you are still losing a lot of those nutrients in the process due to either leaching or volatilization.

      When that field is grazed, I'm not wasting anything, because everything is staying in the field. In the process, I'm feeding both the cattle and the soil microbes. Not spending as much money is just a bonus.

  2. I'm glad there are people like you who are willing to actually test out ideas like this and see if they work. It really makes for interesting reading and I learn a lot from it.

    1. One of the main ideas (and it took awhile for me to realize it) that's usually advocated by most of the people that talk about cover cropping is that it isn't possible to have a "standardized" cover cropping system.

      What works for one farm might not work at all on another farm, and what works one year on a farm might not work at all in another year on the very same farm.

      So, the only way to figure out what works is to do something (usually on a small scale at first), and then try to learn from both the failures and the successes. For me, when that way of thinking about cover cropping finally sunk in, it made it easier to try planting some cover crops on a larger scale.

      Writing about my ideas, documenting the progress with a few photos, and then trying to explain what I think is happening seems to help me develop those ideas a little more than before I was blogging about it. If people find it interesting or helpful, that's even better.

      If you're interested in more on the subject, there are plenty of interesting videos and articles online by people like Gabe Brown, Gail Fuller, Ray Archuleta, David Brandt, Jay Fuhrer, etc.