Millet: An Exciting Pasture Plant

Cow grazing Japanese Millet at the Beidler Farm in Randoph. Photo by Deb Heleba
Cow grazing Japanese Millet at the Beidler Farm in Randoph. Photo by Deb Heleba

 

Soon we’ll be coming up on the time of the summer where pastures really slow down and seem not to be growing at all. We are moving past the period of most rapid growth for our cool-season grasses (bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and orchard grass, for example) and in late summer we’ll see that growth revive again. The thing about cool-season grasses is that they really slow down when the weather isn’t cool (surprise!). Longer rest periods for individual paddocks during this time can help prevent overgrazing damage, as plants will need longer (30+ days) before they will be ready to be grazed again.

One advanced management practice is to plant summer annual grasses such as millet. Unlike the cool-season perennials, warm-season annuals thrive when the temperatures rise. The optimal planting time for annuals such as millet is between June 1st and July 1st when soil temperatures reach at least 65 degrees. Unlike sorghum-sudangrass, millet does not carry the risks associated with prussic acid and it can tolerate wetter soils. It should be grazed at about 18 inches tall and can be grazed more than once.

Some farmers use millet when renovating pastures, plowing and then seeding down with millet for the season, before re-planting with a pasture mix in early fall. We know that farmers in other parts of Vermont have had success with this crop, but tilling up Addison County heavy clay soil in the window that is needed, can be a challenge. We are not sure how well it will do when drilled in to existing stands, but this summer we will be experimenting with no-tilling millet into perennial pastures on a handful of farms to see if we can get an increase in dry matter production in the late summer months. We are going to drill in a variety of pearl millet called ‘Wonderleaf’ as well as a mixture called ‘Summerfeast’ which contains both pearl millet and forage brassica.  The idea being that the brassica plants will also provide some forage later into the grazing season.  Stay tuned for some exciting results…

Cover Crops as Forage Crops…A Look at Winter Rye and Triticale

Deer Valley Farm harvesting winter rye for round bale silage just before tilling it under and planting corn.
Deer Valley Farm harvesting winter rye for round bale silage just before tilling it under and planting corn.

by Kirsten Workman, Agronomy Outreach Professional

‘Double Cropping’ or the practice of harvesting two crops from the same field in one year is not a new concept by any means.  However, as more and more farmers in the Champlain Valley are starting to look at cover crops as part of their crop rotation, it becomes a very viable option to evaluate harvesting them for forage.  The most popular cover crop planted here in Vermont after corn silage is Winter Rye.  Recently, however, we have started to see more and more farmers plant Winter Triticale (a cross between winter rye and winter wheat) for its purported value as a forage crop.  This spring, several producers harvested winter rye and triticale for forage.  We were able to collect forage samples in an attempt to compare them to each other and get a better sense of the overall value of these crops as forage. 

 We collected samples from three farms on five fields.  The farms we collected samples from were located in Williston, North Ferrisburgh, and Wells, Vermont.  The farms were harvesting these cover crops as baleage or grazing them.  We calculated yields and sent the samples for analysis.  Below is a table with our results, averaged by crop.  The fields were all no-till drilled in late September at between 100 and 150 lbs/acre (after corn silage or into pasture) and harvested in mid-May.  All of the crops were fertilized in the spring (with Urea or solid dairy manure).  The majority of samples were taken at harvest during the split-boot stage (Feekes stage 10).  The yield measurements represent one harvest, and do not account for multiple harvests.  The pasture was grazed a second time in early June and that harvest would increase overall yields.

 Overall, in our samples, triticale performed better than rye from a forage quality standpoint.  Rye, however, outperforms in yields, sometimes by double.  One of our triticale samples tested out at 22% protein when harvested at the split boot stage, but our samples averaged out at 17% CP.  The rye was not far behind at 16% CP.  We also found that planting at higher rates increased yields and quality.

 Considerations

 In Alburgh, VT UVM Extension Agronomist, Dr. Heather Darby found similar results with her winter rye planting trials.  She found similar dry matter yields over the 2011 and 2012 seasons.  They didresults see lower crude protein levels at closer to 12% (our rye samples averaged 16% crude protein).

 Aaron Gabriel, of Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Capital Area Agriculture and Horticulture Program also collected samples on four fields this May that were each planted to rye and triticale.  Although they did not collect yield data, the protein levels were also lower than ours.  Rye averaged 12.7% CP while triticale averaged 14.6% CP.  Their relative feed values were very close to what we found…both crops averaging well over 100.

 Like all crops, yield and quality all depend on management. Planting and harvesting in a timely manner, a good fertility program, and appropriate soils will have the most impact on growing a high quality, high yielding crop.  In these situations, either crop would fit the bill.  If you are hoping to get a crop off early in order to get your long season corn or soybeans established, winter rye might be a better fit. 

 Although dry matter yields are the best way to compare results, it is important to note that from a feed management standpoint, rye yielded up to 4 tons per acre of baleage (assuming 55% moisture) and closer to 5 tons/acre of chopped silage (assuming 65% moisture).  Triticale yielded between around 2 tons/acre at 55% moisture and almost 3 tons/acre at 65% moisture. 

 For a cost of $35 per acre to seed these cover crops, a farmer can see a return of between $80 and $200 in feed value (depending on your yields).

Conclusions

This winter rye measured in at 36" at harvest time during the split boot stage.  It yielded almost 2 dry matter tons per acre.
This winter rye measured in at 36″ at harvest time during the split boot stage. It yielded almost 2 dry matter tons per acre.

Overall, triticale matures later than rye and is shorter with less biomass.  It did test out as higher quality feed in our sampling, but was inconclusive

statistically. Rye does yield higher.  In one field where rye was planted right next to triticale in the same field, the rye produced 1.49 DM tons per acre while the triticale yielded 0.91 DM tons per acre.  In our observations, triticale seed is often more expensive and harder to get a hold of.  Although, that may change as more producers purchase it over time.  We found that seeding at higher rates closer to 150 pounds/acre gives higher yields and better quality (higher protein, lower NDF) than fields seeded at a lower rate of 100 pounds per acre. 

 An additional one or two dry matter tons per acre of quality feed is not a bad return on the investment of seed.  Add to that the erosion prevention you accomplish over the winter and early spring, the nutrient recycling that occurs, and the soil health benefits of increased organic matter, better soil structure, and it seems like it makes sense in most cases.  If you are unable to harvest these crops as forage and must plow or burn them down with herbicide, they can contribute significant amounts of nutrients back to your soil profile, enabling you to reduce fertilizer inputs.  Rye provided 45 to 90 pounds of nitrogen, an average of 9 pounds of Phosphorus and 80 pounds of potassium; while triticale provided an between 45 and 65 pounds of nitrogen, 5.5 pounds of phosphorus, and 45 pounds of potassium (per acre).

 All in all, a well-managed rye or triticale crop can improve  soil health, water quality, and could become an important part of your feeding program.  We will keep you posted as we continue to look at these cover crops in Vermont.

More Reading:

 Aaron Gabriel’s winter rye/triticale results – Cornell Cooperative Extension

Winter triticale that was drilled into a pasture in September being rotationally grazed the following May.
Winter triticale that was drilled into a pasture in September being rotationally grazed the following May.

 Dr. Heather Darby’s 2012 Winter Rye Research – UVM Extension

 Dr. Heather Darby’s 2011 Winter Rye Planting Date Research – UVM Extension

 Dr. Heather Darby’s 2011 Winter Rye Seeding Rate Research – UVM Extension

 http://nmsp.cals.cornell.edu/publications/factsheets/factsheet56.pdf

 

 

2013 Vermont Farm Show Winners

Best of Class!!

2013 Vermont Farm Show
Field & Forage Crop Product Contest
Class Winners

Hay – Grass
Lucas Vaughan (South Ryegate)
Best of Show – Hay

Hay – Legume
James Maillee (Shelburne)

Hay – Mixed
Shawnha VanderWey (Ferrisburgh)

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Silage & Grains – Grass Haylage
Henry Brothers- Wolfridge Dairy ( Alburg)

Silage & Grains – Legume Haylage
Woodlawn Farm, Inc. (Pawlet)

Silage & Grains – Baleage

Judging Silage

Fred & Michelle Pike (Cabot)

Silage & Grains – Corn Silage
David Conant, Conants Riverside Farm (Richmond)

Silage & Grains – High Moisture Ear Corn/Snaplage
Joseph Hescock, Elysian Fields Farm (Shoreham)

Judging Hay

Silage & Grains – Other Dry Grain
Earl Bessette, Elgin Spring Farm (New Haven)
Best of Show – Silage & Grain for their Barley Grain entry

Frost Seeding: Simple, But Not Foolproof

by Rico Balzano, UVM Extension Agronomy Outreach Professional

Frost seeding can be an efficient and cost effective way to reseed or introduce new forage species to pastures and hay meadows. Successful frost seeding can improve forage quality, and research in Michigan has shown yield increases by 1.5-2.0 tons of dry matter per acre. That is a pretty good return on the cost the cost of the seed and the time to broadcast it. However, frost seeding is not right for every situation and not every year presents the ideal conditions. The basic idea behind frost seeding is the freeze-thaw cycle and rain of early spring will help incorporate seed broadcast over the surface. It is a simple process, but timing is critical: seed too early and seed may die, seed too late and there is no frost to do the work. Frost seeding can be accomplished with broadcast spreaders that mount onto ATVs or tractor 3-point hitches.  Roller seeders are also very effective but will require more passes across the field. This can be done over minimal snow cover, but broadcasting over deeper snow before a rapid melting can result in losing seed to runoff.  In Vermont, most frost seeding happens in late February or March. But now is the time to start planning.

Site Selection– Choose where you frost seed carefully. Pastures and hay meadows that are predominately sod-forming grasses, such as bluegrass or reed canary grass, can have a thick thatch barrier that can make seed establishment difficult. Grazing livestock “stomping” the seed in can be worth a try in these situations. Also, soil type is important. Soils that have natural moisture through the early summer, such as loam and clay soil, work best for frost seeding. Sandy soils should be avoided.

Soil Test, Lime, and Fertilizer– If possible, apply any needed lime a year in advance. Nitrogen should be avoided the year before and the year of seeding. This only stimulates grasses and weeds making them too competitive. Legumes need phosphorus and potassium, however, to compete with grasses.

Preparing the fall before seeding- Seed to soil contact is critical for frost seeding to work. Grazing or clipping pastures and hay meadows down to about 2” the previous fall or winter opens the canopy and allows broadcast seed to reach the soil. Grazing tightly will also reduce the vigor of the existing forages the following spring, helping the new seedlings to better compete.  In some cases, lightly disturbing the soil with a disk the fall before frost seeding can help increase success.

Seed Selection, Legumes: Alfalfa, clover, and trefoil can all be successfully frost seeded. Alfalfa should be frost-seeded on well drained soils with near neutral pH and adequate levels of phosphorus and potassium. Avoid fields where alfalfa already exists.  Autotoxicity will prevent new alfalfa plants from becoming established. Clovers have better success on poorly drained and with less lime and fertilizer. Red clover establishes quickly and produces for one or two years, while white clovers can last three years or more. Although birdsfoot trefoil is slow to establish, it is long lived, improves with time, and can become the dominant legume as red clover dies out. Be sure to inoculate all legume seed.

Seed Selection, Grasses: Older alfalfa stands that have become less productive can sometimes benefit from grasses being introduced. This can be challenging because most grasses tend not to be as successful as legumes when frost seeded. Research from the University of Wisconsin has shown that perennial ryegrass and orchardgrass have the best success in years when moisture is adequate for growth. However, perennial ryegrass is not as winter hardy as other cool season grasses so persistence may be a problem.

Seed Mixtures: In many cases, seeding more than one species can be advantageous. For example, red clover and birdsfoot trefoil seeded together can ensure a long-term legume presence in a pasture. In research done at Iowa State, red clover established quickly and was productive for two years before declining, while birdsfoot trefoil became productive in the second and following years. For this reason, many producers frost seed red clover every two to three years to maintain legume production. Also, especially when seeding mixes using broadcast type seeders, be sure to determine the spreading width. Different species and mixes will vary. For example, legume seed tends to “throw” further than grass seed. Therefore it is recommended to separate grass and legume seed and spread them in two passes.

Grazing management after seeding:  Establishment of legumes depends on control of grasses and weeds, especially in the first two to three months after emergence. Immediately after seeding, but before emergence, animals can be used to control early spring growth. Hoof action will assist the freeze-thaw cycle to incorporate seed. Cattle should be removed before emergence to prevent seedling damage.  After legume emergence, moderate but quick grazing, not shorter than 3-4”, after the grass starts growing will give legume seedlings a chance. Periodic mowing, or an early hay cut, may be necessary to control grasses and weeds. If possible, birdsfoot trefoil will benefit from an early fall rest period.

Recommended Rates for Frost Seeding into Existing Sod (U. of Wisconsin)

Rate (lb./acre)

Expected Establishment

Plants per Square ft.

Species

Seeded Alone

In Mixture

Red Clover

4-8

3-4

2-5

Ladino Clover

2-3

1-2

1-2

Birdsfoot Trefoil

4-6

2-3

6-9 (in 2nd year)

Alfalfa

5-8

3-4

4-6

Perennial Ryegrass

8-15

2-3

10-12

Orchardgrass

3-4

3-4

4

 

Stand Density of Two Forage Legume Following Frost Seeding (Michigan State U.)

Red Clover

Trefoil

————————————–Months after seeding———————————-

3

15

3

15

Established plants as % of herbicide treated stand

0 cuts

69

51

74

52

2 cuts

79

82

88

96

4 cuts

103

107

117

114

Herbicide

100

100

100

100

 

Additional Information and links:

http://pss.uvm.edu/vtcrops/?Page=articles/PastureProduction.html
http://www.uwex.edu/ces/crops/frostsd.htm
http://www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/PM856.pdf
http://www.msue.msu.edu/objects/content_revision/download.cfm/revision_id.283375/workspace_id.108285/Frost%20Seeding%20Guidelines.pdf/