Forage Sorghum Silage Use Growing in Dairies

US - More than six years of forage sorghum silage trials at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station Bush Farm near Bushland are resulting in producers' growing acceptance, said Texas Cooperative Extension specialists.
calendar icon 12 September 2006
clock icon 3 minute read

Whether the forage sorghum becomes hay or silage, is used in a summer grazing program, or as an alternative crop, interest is definitely picking up, said Dr. Brent Bean, Extension agronomist, and Dr. Ted McCollum, Extension beef cattle specialist.

Seed dealers attending the annual Forage Sorghum Variety Trial Field Day said they are seeing large increases in sales due to dairies and feedyards growing acceptance of forage sorghum silage, according to Bean.

This year's trial at the Bush Farm included more than 90 entries, comparing a wide variety of sorghums, such as: brown midrib, photoperiod sensitive, forage sorghum, grain sorghum, sorghum/sudangrass, sudangrass and even some sweet sorghums aimed at the bioenergy market, Bean said.

Each type of sorghum has its strong points, he said. The brown midrib varieties on average produce higher quality silage, and the non-brown midrib varieties typically produce a higher yield.

The photo-period sensitive varieties can produce very high yields if a one-time cutting is used, or can be harvested 60 to 70 days after planting for a haylage crop and then cut again 45 days later, he said. In this system, a producer can still plant wheat after the second cutting.

Several varieties identified in the Experiment Station trials produce a consistent high yield along with quality similar to corn silage, Bean said. These varieties are now being labeled with a tag from the National Sorghum Producers.

The National Sorghum Producers cited changes in silage sorghum genetics and the continued research and development of high quality forages when it launched a branding program aimed at helping producers make seed selection decisions.

In another area, producers are taking a second look at sorghum-sudangrass for their summer stocker grazing programs, McCollum said.

Studies in the first five years have shown the brown midrib sorghum sudangrass was more digestible and produced higher daily gains than the photo-period sensitive and conventional varieties tested, he said. Grazing cattle gained an average of 2.8 pounds per head per day.

The same studies, however, showed photo-period sensitive sorghum sudangrass had a greater yield potential and supported higher stocking rates, McCollum said.

In this year's grazing trial, fields were stocked with 725 pounds of cattle per acre to nearly 1,400 pounds of cattle per acre to look at individual steer gain and also gain per acre, he said.

The objective is to establish gain response curves that stocker operators can figure into their budget projections to determine the most economical grazing system, McCollum said.

Overall, he said, no statistical difference in the gain per acre was determined, which means producers have flexibility in choosing the variety that suits their operational needs.

"What is best for producers to plant will be a function of the market and where they are going with their cattle," McCollum said. "Individual producers may have different objectives.

"For instance, given the price of cattle now, stocker operators that own the cattle and then market feeders may want to put more emphasis on gain per head rather than gain per acre," he said. "While producers that retain ownership through the feedlot may have different priorities."


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