By Paige Smart, Southeast AgriSeeds LLC
Grazing during the heat of the summer provides many challenges for livestock producers. The extra energy animals require to dissipate heat paired with the lower digestibility of warm-season perennials often leaves livestock unable to gain condition. For this reason, summer annuals should be a staple in most livestock operations. There is a wide selection of summer annuals available, but my top pick for grazing is sudangrass. Sudangrass is an incredibly drought tolerant grass native to eastern Africa and adapted for production across the United States. It works best in a rotationally grazed system, where proper regrowth can occur. Varieties with the brown mid rib gene will increase the digestibility of the forage, which translates to greater energy availability. Sudangrass has aggressive seedlings and is fast growing, generally reaching boot stage after 60 days of growth. Depending on rainfall, most producers are able to get 2-4 grazing periods from the crop. Trials have shown sudangrasses to produce an average of 12 tons of dry matter during its growing season, with an average TTNDND of 48.9% and crude protein of 16.9%. Grazing should begin when plants are 24-36 inches tall and should be taken down no lower than 6 inches, or two nodes. Sudangrass does carry the potential for prussic acid poisoning, so take precautions when grazing after a frost or after periods of stress, such as extended drought. Wait to plant until soil temperatures are 60 degrees Fahrenheit and rising. Seeds are large and will need to be planted around one inch deep into a prepared seed bed or no-till drilled into an existing stand of forage that has been burned down.