After being brought to the forefront by studies done at the Noble Research Institute (Ardmore, Okla.), crabgrass began gaining favor as a high-quality forage alternative. Many farmers are now considering it for improving summer pastures.
John Jennings, an extension forage specialist with the University of Arkansas (UA), notes crabgrass is a warm-season annual and, depending on rainfall, produces 2 to 5 tons of dry matter per acre. Crabgrass hay is typically better quality than other summer annuals such as bermudagrass and pearl millet, and an Arkansas study showed common crabgrass retains its quality even as the plant continues to mature.
Jennings also suggests using nitrogen fertilization when needed. Apply it in two applications of 50 to 60 pounds per acre.
Crabgrass works well as a forage before fall planted small grains such as cereal rye and wheat. The small grains provide forage for late fall into spring, and the crabgrass fills in during the summer and early fall to provide high-quality forage.
Jennings recommends light tillage when the cereal forage is done being grazed on in the spring. This improves seed germination and promotes better volunteer crabgrass stands for the summer.
Crabgrass responds well to rotational grazing. Begin grazing when it is 4 to 6 inches tall, which typically occurs 40 days after seedling emergence. According to Jennings, crabgrass is palatable and animals in a new pasture tend to graze on it first. However, Jennings notes, “Crabgrass becomes very unpalatable after a killing frost and is usually avoided by animals grazing. Plan to use grazeable forage before frost occurs.”
Jennings recommends cutting crabgrass for hay in the boot to heading stage (normally 18 to 24 inches high), which will allow for at least two harvests per year. Regrowth is supported by remaining leaves and not by stored root and crown reserves, so avoid cutting crabgrass lower than 3 inches. ~ Michaela King, Hay and Forage Grower. Read the full article here.