Use of cool-season forages can allow livestock producers to extend the grazing season and reduce the need for stored feeds, according to Mississippi State University forage specialists.

Producers got a firsthand look at dozens of cool season grasses and legumes during a tour of plots on the university’s Henry Leveck Animal Research Farm.

“There are about 400,000 to 500,000 acres seeded to winter forages in the state,” said Rocky Lemus, assistant Extension professor of plant and soil sciences, “but there is opportunity for many more producers to benefit from utilizing these crops. Our studies are aimed at determining how these winter forage varieties perform and their suitability for production in Mississippi.”

Mississippi livestock producers are fortunate to be able to grow a large number of forage crops, Lemus says, including both warm- and cool-season species of legumes and grasses, and both perennial and annual forages are common.

Annual ryegrass and small grains, such as oats, wheat, and rye are widely-used winter annual grasses, along with perennial cool season legumes such as white and red clover, and annual legumes, including crimson, ball berseem, and arrowleaf clovers. Tall fescue is grown extensively in the prairie areas of the state and in north Mississippi.

Warm-season forages include perennial grasses such as bermudagrass and bahaigrass, sorghum-sudan hybrids and pearl millets, and annual legumes such as annual lespedeza and alyce clover.

“By using a combination of cool- and warm-season forages for grazing and hay, many Mississippi livestock producers are able to grow their needed feeds with very few outside purchases,” Lemus says.

“If you balance cattle numbers with the land area you have for growing pasture and hay, you may be able to grow all the feed you need. This may average two to three acres per cow-calf unit, but can vary with land type, forage species, fertility, animal requirements, and environmental conditions.”

“By using both cool- and warm-season grasses for grazing and hay, a balance can be reached over time. Rotation grazing may increase carrying capacity and forage utilization.”

He says many growers ask, “What is the best hay grass I can grow?”

“You shouldn’t confuse best with most,” Lemus says. “Also, you must have well-drained land to grow the better hay grasses.

“Bahiagrass grows all over south Mississippi, but might not make the highest quality hay. Dallisgrass grows better than bahiagrass and bermudagrass on moist bottom soils, but ergot in the seedheads may be a problem in hay. Hybrid - - bermudagrass will produce a large quantity of high quality hay, but usually require more management than other summer grasses.”