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NATIVE GRASS & FORB:

MANAGEMENT FOR FORAGE & WILDLIFE

Examples of Native Grass Mixes for ForageMaintenance: Year 4 and Beyond
Native ForbsHaying with Wildlife in Mind
Site Preperation and PlantingMore Options for Haying with Wildlife in Mind
Maintenance: Year 1 and Year 2Grazing with Wildlife in Mind
Maintenance: Year 3Additional Information on Native Grass Forage


Native grasses once covered large portions of Tennessee as native prairies, barrens, glades, or savannas. From a wildlife standpoint native grasses provide better habitat than fescue, orchardgrass, Kentucky bluegrass, and timothy currently found on many farms. Native grasses are bunch grasses which provide a mix of bar ground and cover. Non-native cool-season grasses often form a dense monoculture sod. Current grazing practices of cool season grasses also results in little cover during the winter.

If your summer pasture is fescue or you feed winter fescue hay harvested in May or June then you are probably losing money. Older fescue fields have an endophyte which gives the plant the characteristics so loved by the cattle industry. They include drought tolerance and resistance to heavy grazing. The problem is livestock that are fed endophyte infected fescue often have unpredictable weight gains and in a cow/calf operation can have reduced birth rates. If pregnant horses are fed endophyte infected fescue they often have very low birth rates compared to ones not fed fescue. To top things off during the hot dry summer fescue goes dormant and produces very little forage. In years with lower than normal precipitation you may be forced to feed your livestock winter hay during the summer.

Native grasses provide bare ground for movement of quail chicks and for foraging. They provide nesting cover during the spring and escape and thermal cover during the summer and winter. Short grass species such as sideoats grama, Virginia wild rye, and little bluestem provide ideal cover for quail. In fact the range of little bluestem corresponds with the range of quail. These grasses do not become as thick as the tall native grass species when planted in a diverse mix of native grasses and forbs. Short grass species represent pioneer species in an old field succession. These species set the stage for invasion for the climax species such as Indiangrass, big bluestem, switchgrass, and eastern gamagrass. A mix containing short and tall grasses allows for diversity in grazing as well as providing a mix of habitat structure for wildlife. Native grasses provide excellent forage during the summer when most cool-season grasses have gone dormant. Mixes that have 3 or more species of native grass are better able to adapt to variations in soil and moisture. A higher diversity of plants which include grasses and forbs is also better for providing the habitat needed by quail and rabbits throughout the year.

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Examples of Native Grass Mixes for Forage

8lbs Pure Live Seed/acre

Bluestem Dominant

(loam/sand/rocky soils)

Early forage production with some production late in the season.


big bluestem

Andropogon gerardii

4.0 lbs/acre PLS

Indiangrass

Sorghastrum nutans

2.0 lbs/acre PLS

sideoats grama

Bouteloua cuirtipendula

1.0 lb/acre PLS

little bluestem

Schizachyrium scoparius

1.0 lb/acre PLS


Bluestem Dominant

(loam/sand/clay soils)

Early forage production with some production late in the season.


big bluestem

Andropogon gerardii

4.0 lbs/acre PLS

Indiangrass

Sorghastrum nutans

2.0 lbs/acre PLS

Virginia wild rye

Elymus virginicus

1.0 lbs/acre PLS

little bluestem

Schizachyrium scoparius

1.0 lb/acre PLS


Eastern Gamagrass Dominant

(claypan soil)

For areas near rivers and streams that do not have good drainage. These sites may stay wet for a period of time during the winter and early spring. Eastern gamagrass will need to be planted separately due to its requirement of being planted deeper than other grasses.

Early forage production with some production late in the season..


eastern gamagrass

Tripsacum dactyloides

4.0 lbs/acre PLS

switchgrass

Panicum virgatum

1.0 lbs/acre PLS

Indiangrass

Sorghastrum nutans

2.0 lbs/acre PLS

Virginia wild rye

Elymus virginicus

1.0 lbs/acre PLS

Switchgrass Dominant

(loam/sand/clay soils)

Early forage production. Largest yields occur late April through early July.


switchgrass

Panicum virgatum

4.0 lbs/acre PLS

big bluestem

Andropogon gerardii

2.0 lbs/acre PLS

Virginia wild rye

Elymus virginicus

1.0 lbs/acre PLS

little bluestem

Schizachyrium scoparius

1.0 lb/acre PLS


Indiangrass Dominant

(loam/sand/rocky soils)

Some forage produced early in season but bulk production occurs in July and August.


Indiangrass

Sorghastrum nutans

4.0 lbs/acre PLS

big bluestem

Andropogon gerardii

2.0 lbs/acre PLS

sideoats grama

Bouteloua cuirtipendula

1.0 lb/acre PLS

little bluestem

Schizachyrium scoparius

1.0 lb/acre PLS


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Native Forbs

Adding native forbs/wildflowers to your planting will increase the diversity of the planting and be much better for wildlife and livestock. Native forbs improve the forage value of native grasses for livestock and improve the stand value for wildlife. Legumes like Illinois bundleflower, prairie clover, roundheaded lespedeza, and Canada milkvetch improve not only the quality of the stand through increased nitrogen, but increase crude protein levels of the forage. These species also provide seeds and insects for quail and songbirds. Forbs like Maximillian sunflower, purple coneflower, lanceleaf coeropsis, grayheaded coneflower, and cup plant provide additional forage for livestock and food for wildlife. Cattle fed a mix of grass, forbs, and legumes are often healthier and show better weight gains. Hay containing dried forbs and legumes typically has higher digestibility and increased crude protein over hay that is only grasses.


Examples of forb mixes for forage plantings
1lbs/acre

(imazapic resistant)

purple prairie clover

Dalea purpureum

2.0 oz/acre

Illinois bundleflower

Desmanthus illinoensis

4.0 oz/acre

purple coneflower

Echinacea purpurea

6.0 oz/acre

roundheaded bushclover

Lespedeza capitata

1.0 oz/acre

grayheaded coneflower

Ratibida pinnata

3.0 oz/acre


The following mixes are not imazapic resistant. If imazapic may need to be used for weed control then it is recommended that these mixes are not seeded until the first fall/winter after grass is planted.


Upland

(loam/sand/clay/rocky soils)

purple prairie clover

Dalea purpureum

2.0 oz/acre

Illinois bundleflower

Desmanthus illinoensis

4.0 oz/acre

purple coneflower

Echinacea purpurea

3.0 oz/acre

Maximilian sunflower

Helianthus maximiliani

3.0 oz/acre

roundheaded bushclover

Lespedeza capitata

1.0 oz/acre

grayheaded coneflower

Ratibida pinnata

3.0 oz/acre



Mesic Upland/Bottomland

(Loam/Sand/Clay Soils)

Canada milkvetch

Astragalus canadensis

1.0 oz/acre

Illinois bundleflower

Desmanthus illinoensis

5.0 oz/acre

purple coneflower

Echinacea purpurea

4.0 oz/acre

Maximilian sunflower

Helianthus maximiliani

3.0 oz/acre

cup plant

Silphium perfoliatum

3.0 oz/acre


2lbs/acre Forb Mix

Dry Upland

(loam/sand/clay/rocky soils)

purple prairie clover

Dalea purpureum

3.0 oz/acre

lanceleaf coreopsis

Coreopsis lanceolata

3.0 oz/acre

Illinois bundleflower

Desmanthus illinoensis

5.0 oz/acre

purple coneflower

Echinacea purpurea

11.0 oz/acre

Maximilian sunflower

Helianthus maximiliani

4.0 oz/acre

gray-head coneflower

Ratibida pinnata

4.0 oz/acre

compass plant

Silphium laciniatum

1.0 oz/acre

roundhead bushclover

Lespedeza capitata

1.0 oz/acre


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Site Preparation and Planting

Maintenance

Year 1 and Year 2

The first year and second year of maintenance will be the same whether you are planting for forage or wildlife habitat. For more information click here.

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Year 3

By now there is probably enough vegetation established to allow grazing. If possible before grazing or haying the field a prescribed burn should be conducted between March and May of the year. This will remove thatch and previous year's growth and encourage additional growth of native grasses. Cattle should not be allowed to graze native grasses lower than 8 inches and haying should not be any lower than 6 inches.

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Year 4 and beyond

Grazing or haying will benefit the growth of native grasses and forbs if the fields are not overgrazed or hayed too short. An additional option to improve and maintain your grasses is to use fire. Native grasses and forbs are adapted to fire which reduces competition and improved forage quality. Fire improves grass vigor and palatability for livestock. If you are able to use fire you should consider burning on a 2 to 3 year rotation. This will allow the native grasses and forbs to better compete with the weeds and woody vegetation that may have established. Burning that will benefit wildlife and livestock should occur between February 1 and April 30. Additional Information on Prescribed Fire.

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Haying with Wildlife in Mind

Native grasses as hay do not make ideal habitat for wildlife. The optimum time to hay little bluestem, big bluestem, and Indiangrass is between June 1 and June 30th. Switchgrass and Eastern Gamagrass need hayed earlier often between May 15th and June 15th before they begin producing seed heads. By haying during this period the highest crude protein content can be achieved; however this time period is also the peak nesting season for quail, turkey, and a number of grassland songbirds. If you have a strong interest in quail or other wildlife, it is recommended that you not hay your native grasses until after July 15th. This later haying will allow nesting quail and songbirds to potentially hatch out their nest and allow young to move. If delayed haying is used to provide some benefit to wildlife and still produce hay consider using a native grass mix containing a larger portion of Indiangrass. Indiangrass mature later than big bluestem, switchgrass, and eastern gamagrass. This later maturity will allow later haying while maintaining potentially higher crude protein levels.

Always hay native grasses at 6 to 10 inches in height although mowing lower then this will not kill established native grasses the value for wildlife is lost. Haying native grasses lower than 6 inches will cause the grasses to use up carbohydrate reserves in the roots. This results in reduced regrowth of stems and leaves and reduces overall plant vigor. Over time repeated low haying can reduce hay yields from the field. Haying low also does not allow the native grasses to have enough regrowth and to replace root carbohydrate reserves before growth stops in late September. The regrowth after haying is also important for wildlife. By allowing the native grasses to regrow after haying the field can provide some winter cover and cover for nesting the following spring. If a field is hayed below 6 inches there is not enough regrowth to provide winter cover or nesting habitat for quail and songbirds. Hay Equipment Modifications

Most hay cutting equipment is designed to cut too low for native grasses. Often the cutting bars only have a cutting height range of 0.5 to 3 inches. Although this low cutting has less of an effect on fescue, orchardgrass, or timothy, it does result in reduced productivity of native grasses. Older sickle bar mowers often had an adjustable skid at the end which would allow you to set the height that the grass was cut. The new disc mower bars typically do not have this adjustment. A few manufactures do have an optional boot, skid, or high stubble attachment which will raise the cutting height to a maximum of 4.5 inches on some or higher on others. It may also be possible to modify these skids to cut at 6 inches. Cylinder stroke control stops which are placed on the hydraulic lift cylinder can also be used to maintain the height of the disc mower and keep from mowing below 6 inches. Cylinder stroke controls come in a variety of thicknesses and opening diameters to fit different sized hydraulic cylinders. The cylinder stroke control stops are placed over the piston arm of the hydraulic cylinder and keep the ram from completely contracting all the way. These can also be used with boot, skids, or high stubble attachments to maintain the cutting height better.

Some hay mower conditioners may be able to cut the 6 inches required for native grasses. However, many hay mower conditioners cannot cut any higher than 3 inches. The highest a few models of mower conditioners can cut is 6.5 inches while others can only cut 4.5 inches with an optional high stubble skid or extension. It is recommended that cylinder stroke control stops are also used on mower conditioners in order to keep from mowing below 6 inches.

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More Wildlife Friendly Options for Haying with Wildlife in Mind

When haying to protect wildlife you should either start at one end of the field and mow back and forth across the field or start in the middle of the field and hay out from the center. Mowing around the field until reaching the center forces wildlife to move toward the center of the field. This can cause them to hold longer and be killed easier by the mower. Also it does not give wildlife cover to escape to as the mowing gets closer to the center of the field. You should never hay at night if you are interested in protecting wildlife. Haying at night increases the potential of killing more wildlife because they are more likely to hold longer or flush wildly into the path of the mower.

A method used in the Midwest and Great Plains for waterfowl and pheasants in the past was the use of a flushing bar. A flushing bar is a bar mounted 4 or 5 feet in front of the cutting bar of the mower parallel to the cutting bar 3ft to 4 ft off the ground. The bar is mounted to move or bend if it hits an obstruction. Chains spaced from 6 to 10 inch are attached to the bar and drop to the ground. The idea of the flush bar is that the chains dragging along and hitting vegetation will force wildlife to run or flush before the mower hits them. There have been mixed results found with the use of flushing bars and its effects on the survival of nesting ducks and pheasants.Other options for improving a hay field for wildlife are leaving a border or using a rest rotation. A 50 ft border around the field provides nesting and winter cover for wildlife that utilize the edge, such as in particular quail and rabbits. Grassland birds such as Henslow's sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, and meadowlarks not as likely to use the borders of fields. Another option is the rest rotation, in which half of the field is not cut each year. If quail and rabbits are your primary interest then the area rested should be along a wooded edge or brushy fencerow. A rest rotation not only can benefit wildlife, but it can benefit future hay production. The rest rotation allows the native grasses to increase carbohydrate reserves in the roots. It also allows organic material to build up on the surface of the soil, increasing soil fertility and increasing fuel loads for burning the following year. The rest rotation can provide winter and potentially nesting cover for quail, rabbits, and some songbirds.

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Grazing with Wildlife in Mind

If done properly using native grasses can be both a benefit for livestock and wildlife. Native warm season grass pastures can provide high quality forage as well as wildlife habitat. Pastures can be funded under the Environmental Quality Incentive Program of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The key to successfully using native warm season grass in a rotational forage system is to not allow the grass to be grazed below 8 inches, give it enough rest between rotations, and to not graze it past August 30th. In the higher elevations of the Appalachian Mountains, native warm season grass should not be grazed past August 15th. This will give the native grasses a chance to increase growth before the first frost and increase carbohydrate storage in the roots for better regrowth in the spring. This will also allow the grass to regrow and provide some winter cover for wildlife.

Rotational grazing can have some benefits for wildlife, but if the stocking rate is too high and the rest period is too short it will reduce the value of the native grass for wildlife. At high stocking rates nest can be trampled by cattle and the vegetation can be left to short for wildlife. Small rotational paddocks are of less value to wildlife than larger paddocks. If too short of a rest period is used between grazing events, there will be a reduction in grass growth, and the value for wildlife will be reduced. Also if grazed to intensively the diversity of plant species found in the paddock will be less.

Season long grazing is when the pasture is grazed from about mid-April through mid to late August for native grasses. Season long grazing requires that more acreage is available for livestock to graze on and requires a higher acreage per animal unit. In season long grazing cattle are allowed to move about the pasture freely. Some areas of the pasture will get grazed more heavily than others while other areas may be grazed very little or not at all. The mosaic of grazed and ungrazed will result in the best diversity of plants and habitat for wildlife. It provides areas of tall thick vegetation for escape cover and nesting and shorter more sparse vegetation for feeding. Cattle can be encouraged to feed on other areas of the pasture by moving salt blocks or water to areas that are not grazed as much. The main issue with this method is getting the stocking rate correct so that the number of animal units does not exceed production of the forage during the summer.

In larger pastures the use of patch burning can be used to move cattle around the pasture. In patch burning only a portion of the field is burned at a time. This burning stimulates cattle to feed on the more palatable growth of the burned area leaving other portions of the field grazed very little. Cattle will spend 75% of their time in the burned area and the remaining feeding in other parts of the pasture. This intensive grazing will not hurt established native grasses because the following year that area will be rested receiving very little grazing as the cattle graze the new burned area.

Video provided by Missouri Department of Conservation.


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Additional Information on Native Grass Forage

The following links provide additional inforamtion on establishing and using native warm season grasses for forage. This publications are not intended for those who are interested in providing wildlife habitat and forage. Instead these publications are intended for those who only wish have an alternative summer forage and are not interested in wildlife.

SP731-A - Native Warm-Season Grasses for Mid-South Forage Production

SP731-C - Grazing Native Warm-Season Grasses in the Mid-South

SP731-D - Producing Hay from Native Warm-Season Grasses in the Mid-South

SP731-B - Establishing Native Warm-Season Grasses for Livestock Forage in the Mid-South

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  What to do when

Use the planning calendar below for tips on enhancing your land throughout the year. Click any of the selections below for more details.






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