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.

Written By

Photo of Kelsey Lichtenwalner, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionKelsey LichtenwalnerExtension Agent, Agriculture - Livestock (252) 641-7827 (Office) kelsey_lichtenwalner@ncsu.eduEdgecombe County, North Carolina
Updated on Mar 24, 2017
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