Incorporated additional forage options for the summer months 

During the heat of summer, cool season grasses turn dormant reducing the amount of forage available for many cattle in the Ozarks. Producers may want to consider adding a warm season annual grass to their operation to boost the quality and quantity of summer grazing in their pastures. There are several factors to consider when determining whether to add warm season annuals to an operation. 

Pearlmillet and Sorghum-Sudangrass

The biggest advantage to planting warm season annuals is to give livestock additional forage during the time of year fescue and other cool season grasses are dormant. The two most commonly used warm season annuals in the Ozarks are pearlmillet and sorghum-sudangrass. “They are very productive, there’s a lot of yield, and it’s high quality for being an annual,” Craig Roberts, Ph.D., state forage specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, said.

Pearlmillet and sorghum-sudangrass require adequate amounts of moisture and fertility in order to produce high-quality forage in the summer months. If producers get the annual grasses planted in the right timeframe, properly fertilize and if there is enough rainfall the annual grasses will provide an excellent source of forage during the hottest days of the year. 


The best time to plant pearlmillet and sorghum-sudangrass is typically May through the first of June. However, pearlmillet can be planted a few weeks later into June compared to sorghum-sudangrass. The warm season annuals are drilled into the soil about one inch deep. “The only problem is, if you have a lot from competing canopy and you don’t do a burn down or spray in strips or anything like that, there is a risk of competition from the existing canopy,” Roberts advised. Forage specialists also recommend applying nitrogen prior to drilling in the seed.


Though warm season annuals can produce additional quality forage when needed, there are some things to keep in mind before planting. First, planting warm season annuals can be a bit of a gamble because of the dependence on rainfall for the grasses to take root and grow. “It’s a tough call. Do I plant something knowing there may be no rain? That’s a tough decision,” Roberts said.

Another consideration is the composition of soil in this part of the country. Even during an average year, there is not a lot of moisture in the shallow soil in most parts of the Ozarks. The soil type is not conducive to holding water. “If you plant the sorghum-sudangrass it can pretty much use up all the moisture that is stored in the soil profile and when you come back and seed in the fall there is not much there, you’re depending strictly on the rain,” Roberts explained.

Lastly, pearlmillet and sorghum-sudangrass are forages that can cause nitrate poisoning in livestock during a dry year. “If we had pearlmillet and sorghum-sudangrass up and growing and then they stopped growing for several weeks you could see nitrate accumulation in the crown and then you have a risk of nitrate poisoning,” Roberts stated. Additionally, sorghum-sudangrass comes with the risk of prussic acid poisoning. There is no risk of prussic acid poisoning with pearlmillet. 


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