The Best Grass for Grass Fed Animals

Learn about different types of grass, their growing habits and how to select the right one for your grass fed animals.


| November 2016



Livestock Grazing

Choosing the right grass is crucial to raising the highest quality livestock.


Photo courtesy Chelsea Green

The Art and Science of Grazing (Chelsea Green, 2016) by Sarah Flack states that if farmers work together with their animals, they can create a profound change in pasture quality and productivity. This will ultimately lead to better performance from the livestock. This excerpt comes from chapter 3, "Grazing-Adapted Plants."

Perennial and annual grasses, legumes, and forbs all have different growth habits, and growth habits also vary even within the grasses group. Understanding the differences in how plants like to grow helps us design grazing systems that encourage plants to thrive, build healthy soils, and produce quality feed for livestock. Here, I’ll present an overview of plant types and growth habits.

Grasses

Grasses include annuals, which live for just one season, and perennials, which are plants that live for more than two years. Let’s start with the perennials, and discuss the annuals later.

Perennial pasture grasses include both warm- and cool-season grasses. Cool-season perennials like to grow during cool, moist conditions, so they will be most productive in the cool times of spring and fall. These plants will produce most of their forage dry matter at the beginning of the grazing season. Some cool-season varieties, particularly in locations with hot dry summers, may go dormant for a period of time during midsummer. Warm-season grasses, by contrast, grow best and are more productive during hot, dry midsummer weather. Warm-season grasses can produce very high yields of forage for both grazing and harvested feed in the heat of summer.

Perennial grasses include species, such as Kentucky bluegrass, that are very well adapted to grazing. However, other perennial grasses such as smooth bromegrass or timothy are more susceptible to being grazed down too short. As discussed earlier, this is due to differences in how the plants grow. Learning about plant anatomy and physiology can help in understanding why some grasses do better than others in the pasture, and why some respond very differently to different grazing techniques.

When you look closely at the anatomy of a grass plant, you will notice that each plant is a collection of tillers—individual plant shoots—that grow from the base or crown. Tillers can develop from seeds, they can shoot out from the base of existing grass plants, or they can arise from stolons or rhizomes.





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