7 Cool-Season Forages to Consider Planting

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Forages – pastures, hay, and silage – cover about 2.5 million acres in the United States, and provide a cheaper source of nutrients for horses and ruminants – cattle, sheep, and goats – than concentrates. In fact, forages are often a better source of nutrients, and can provide between 30%-80% of the required nutrients in livestock (percentage depends of the forage quality). In addition, forages have shown to dramatically reduce soil erosion and have a positive impact on nitrogen management. The use of forages in a 4-year crop rotation can reduce soil erosion by 50%; while studies have shown that corn, planted after 3 years of alfalfa or clover – may yield the same bushel per acre as corn fertilized with 100-150 lb. of Nitrogen per acre.

So whether you have pastures or row crops – here are 7 cool-season forages to consider planting this spring (or fall!):

  • Ladino Clover – Perennial Legume
    • 3 Year Stand
    • Extremely High Quality Forage: 80% Digestible, 25% Crude Protein
    • Grows well with Orchardgrass and/or Tall Fescue
    • More productive and drought resistant that other white clover species.
  • Orchardgrass – Perennial Grass
    • 5 Year Stand
    • High Quality Forage (when young): 70% Digestible, 18% Crude Protein
    • More susceptible to leaf deterioration from frost.
  • Red Clover – Perennial Legume
    • 2-3 Year Stand
    • High Quality Forage: 70% Digestible, 18% Crude Protein
    • Grows well with orchardgrass, but not tall fescue.
  • Reed Canarygrass – Perennial Grass
    • 5-7 Year Stand
    • High Quality Forage: 72% Digestible, 17% Crude Protein
    • Extremely tolerant of flooding and poorly drained soils as well as drought tolerant.
    • Seeding vigor is low, so establishment is slow.
  • Rescuegrass – Perennial Grass
    • 2-3 Year Stand
    • Relatively High Quality Forage: (65% Digestible, 12% Crude Protein)
    • Does best if grazed or cut every 4-6 weeks, especially during the fall and winter.
    • DO NOT use in crop rotations! Because of it’s seedling vigor, it could become a pest in small grains
  • Italian Ryegrass (Annual Ryegrass) – Annual Grass
    • Very High Quality Forage: 77% Digestible, 14% Crude Protein
    • Very competitive in seedling stage. May become a pest in small grains.
    • Works well for mixtures of winter pastures.
  • Tall Fescue – Perennial Grass
    • 3-10 Year Stand (Endophyte infected fescue can persist for 20+ years)
    • High Quality Forage: 75% Digestible, 17% Crude Protein
    • 90% of Kentucky 31 Tall Fescue pastures in NC are infected with endophytes – a fungus that is associated with animal health disorders and poor performance. Once infected, the fungus can persist for 20+ years)
    • Remains green throughout the year with peak production months being: March, April, May, September, October, November.

Don’t forget to take a soil sample before planting!

For more information about seeding rates and planting dates see the Forage Planting Guide for North Carolina below.