Selecting a Perennial Forage for Your Ranch

November, 2015
Lindsey Wiggins, UF/IFAS Livestock Agent - Multi County
Source: Florida Cow-Calf Management, 2nd Edition – Forages; Revised by: Lindsey Wiggins

Selection of pasture forage for beef cattle depends on location and management.The success of your beef cattle operation is tied directly to the amount and quality of forage—whether pasture or hay. As a general rule, readily available pasture of good quality is your cheapest source of feed nutrients. While native pastures furnish viable grazing; most producers working with small acreage will be interested in planted or improved pastures.

Warm-season perennial grasses are the foundation of Florida pastures. Bahiagrass is the most commonly grown forage for livestock in Florida. It is established from seed and is widely adapted, very dependable, persistent, and easy to manage. Bahiagrass can endure considerable mistreatment and still maintain a stand. The two major pests adversely affecting bahiagrass are: mole crickets and weeds. Other improved perennial grasses may be more productive and have better attributes, especially when fertilized with high levels of nitrogen; however, these species may require more management in order to maintain good stands and be productive The list below briefly describes important, commonly used forages in Florida:

Bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum) - A widely adapted, productive, persistent, and easily managed grass. It can be grown on most soil types with limited use of fertilizer. The greatest production occurs in summer, with limited growth during the fall. Varieties include: Argentine, Tifton 9, Pensacola, and TifQuick, and UF Riata. Bahiagrass is used primarily for grazing, but excess growth can be harvested for hay. Producers can also use bahiagrass as a cash crop by harvesting and selling seed or sod.

Bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon) - Improved hybrid bermudagrasses can be used for pasture and are well suited for hay production when grown on fertile, well-drained soils. In south Florida, they are as productive as stargrass; however they have limited tolerance to poorly drained soils. Bermudagrasses need high fertilization and management requirements. Several improved varieties are available: Jiggs, Tifton 85, Florakirk, Tifton 44, Callie, Coastcross-1, Suwannee, and Coastal.

Stargrass (Cynodon nlemfuensis) - Related to bermudagrass, stargrass is more productive in warm regions due to its lack of cold tolerance and is generally planted south of Orlando. Stargrass is very high yielding when fertilized with high rates of nitrogen, and produces more fall growth than bahiagrass. Some varieties available are: Okeechobee, Florico, Florona, and Ona. The stargrasses should be used under conditions of intensive grazing and high soil fertility. They are also suitable for hay or silage.

Limpograss (Hemarthria altissima) – Limpograss is only adapted to poorly drained flatwoods soils and is recommended for use on land that is too moist to grow other grasses. It has excellent fall and spring growth in south Florida. Growth can be accumulated or stockpiled in the late summer / early fall to be grazed as a standing hay crop in the late fall / early winter. Recommended varieties include: Bigalta, Floralta, Gibtuck, and KenHy.

Digitgrass – A high-quality, high-producing forage for grazing or harvest. Pangola and Taiwan are the principal varieties of digitgrass, which can be grown in south Florida on most soil types. New plantings are generally restricted to new land, or land that is free of weedy grasses such as common bermuda and bahia. Digitgrass will not tolerate close grazing and is easily invaded by the aforementioned, less desirable grasses. Fall growth is minimal, and digitgrass is often slow to grow in the spring.

Perennial Peanut – A legume that is persistent and very high in quality, perennial peanut is adapted to well-drained soils and will not tolerate flooding. Planting is accomplished by digging and planting rhizomes. Without adequate soil moisture, establishment is risky, often requiring two or more years to develop an adequate stand. Perennial peanut can be grazed, or used for hay production. The most important cultivars are: Florigraze, Arbrook, Peave, Tito, and Ecotuf.


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