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Publication #AN118

Florida Cow-Calf Management, 2nd Edition - Forages1

Pat Miller and Elzy Lord2

Florida is a large state with considerable variability in soils and climate. In north Florida there are some clay-loam soils with good moisture-holding capacity that are quite productive. Coming down the peninsula we have the upland sandy ridges and flatwoods. In general, the flatwoods soils with their greater moisture-holding capacity are more productive than the upland deep, droughty sands.

The warm growing season is longer in south Florida than in north Florida, and longer along the coast compared to the center of the peninsula. Winter temperatures (below freezing) reach lower levels in north Florida than in south Florida. And certain tropical forages can be grown in south Florida (south of Orlando) that cannot survive in north Florida because they “freeze out.” Spring droughts are usually more severe in peninsular Florida than in north and west Florida.

These differences in climate, soils, and length of growing season affect not only the types of forage that can be grown on your particular ranch, but your overall management system as well. Florida's relatively mild climate, together with its 50-plus inches of annual rainfall, affords a better opportunity for nearly 12 months of grazing than in any other state except Hawaii. Yet, most years, some supplemental feed or forage is required during the cool season (or winter months), especially in north Florida.

Selecting suitable forage(s) for your ranch and determining proper management can seem a complex undertaking. There are many types of forage from which to choose: grasses, legumes, and other plants. Some forage are perennials and live for many years (permanent pasture). Others are annuals and live only one year (temporary pasture). Most are warm season plants, but some are cool season, and many of these can be interseeded into perennial warm season pastures to furnish cool season grazing, especially in north Florida. Some forage can also be grown for hay, while others are suitable only for grazing. Several forage that grow in south Florida cannot be grown in north Florida because they lack sufficient cold tolerance. Some forage can only be grown on well-drained soils; others are adapted to very moist soils. Some are established from seed, while others can only be established by vegetative means (stem, stolon, or rhizomes).

The success of your beef cattle operation is tied directly to the amount and quality of forage—whether pasture or hay—available to your beef animals. As a general rule, readily available pasture of high quality is your cheapest source of feed nutrients. In Florida, native pastures, as well as planted or improved pastures, furnish viable grazing. Most producers working with small acreage will be interested in planted or improved pastures.

Selection of Improved Pasture Species

Grasses

Selection of pasture species for beef cattle depends on three major factors: temperature, soil moisture, and soil fertility. Selection of pasture species in Florida must focus primarily on temperature, due to the wide-ranging climate: south Florida has a climate similar to subtropical regions, while north Florida has subtropical summers but temperate winters.

Perennial grasses are the basis for permanent pastures. Perennial grasses for north Florida include bahiagrasses, improved hybrid bermudagrasses, limpograss, and tall fescue; for central Florida, again, the bahiagrasses, the improved hybrid bermudagrasses, and limpograss. South Florida can use bahiagrasses, digitgrasses, and stargrasses, as well as some of the improved hybrid bermudagrasses, limpograss, and rhodesgrass (plus St. Augustine and paragrass, to a lesser extent).

Annual species provide grazing for temporary pastures. Certain annual grasses are used throughout the state in both cool and warm seasons. Rye, oats, wheat, and ryegrass can all be used for winter grazing, while pearl millet and sorghum x sudangrass hybrids can provide summer grazing on cultivated land.

Figure 1. 

Bahiagrass is a common pasture used for beef cattle across Florida.


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Warm-season perennial grasses are the foundation of our pastures in Florida. Bahiagrass is predominantly used (Figure 1). It can be established from seed and is widely adapted, very dependable, persistent, and easy to manage. Bahiagrass can endure considerable mistreatment (overgrazing, no fertilizer, etc.) and still maintain a stand. Only two pests adversely affect bahiagrass: the mole cricket and the weed, tropical soda-apple. Both have, at times, seriously damaged bahiagrass pastures in some areas of the state.

Bahiagrass has good quality during spring, but quality drops in July and August due to the high temperatures and profuse rainfall. With minimum fertilization bahiagrass is moderately productive during spring and summer, but it offers very little fall growth. Other improved perennial grasses are higher in quality and more productive throughout the year, with greater fall growth (especially when fertilized with high levels of nitrogen). But these also require more management in order to maintain good stands and prevent overgrazing.

Should You Use Legumes?

Legumes are plants that require no nitrogen fertilizer. Their mutually beneficial association with nitrogen-fixing bacteria enables legumes to obtain nitrogen from the air in soil. Legumes provide higher-quality forage (higher digestibility and higher protein) than most perennial grasses. Legumes—especially the annual types—are not as dependable as grasses, however. Generally more sensitive to drought and flooding, they are consequently more narrowly adapted to different sites than grasses. And compared to grasses, legumes are much less tolerant of grazing, so they require more careful grazing management. If you have suitable sites to which particular legumes are adapted, and if you are willing to dedicate the additional management required, legumes could fit into your forage program.

Several cool season legumes (clovers) can be grown successfully on soils that have good moisture-holding capacity during winter and spring months, or where irrigation is available. Cool season legumes offer an alternative to ryegrass and the small grains or can be planted in combination with them.

Both annual and perennial summer legumes are available in Florida. Perennial peanut is a high-quality, warm season legume that can be grown throughout the state on sites that do not flood. However, many attempts to establish perennial peanut by planting in the late winter-early spring period have failed due to late frosts or spring droughts that killed the seedlings. Whenever possible, use irrigation to ensure successful establishment of perennial peanut. Certain warm season legumes can be overseeded onto bahiagrass to improve pasture quality during mid-to-late summer. Additional information on which legumes can be grown in your part of the state or on your particular site is available through your county extension agent.

Recommended Forages

The following section lists and briefly describes the important forages used in Florida. In most cases where several varieties of a forage type are available, varieties are not listed or discussed individually. New varieties are constantly being developed, especially among some of the annuals.

Warm Season Forages

Summer Perennial Grasses

Bahiagrass - A widely adapted, productive and persistent grass, bahiagrass tolerates heavy grazing, making it easy to manage. It can be grown on most soil types. Growth is heaviest in summer, with very little growth during the fall. Bahiagrass will produce moderate yields on low-fertility soils, and can be established from seed. There are four important varieties: Tifton 9 Pensacola, Pensacola, Argentine, and Paraguay 22. Tifton 9 has greater seedling vigor and is more productive than other varieties. The Pensacola types have greater frost tolerance than Argentine or Paraguay 22. Argentine has wider leaves than Pensacola and produces fewer seed heads, making it a preferred variety in the sod business.

Bahiagrass is used primarily for pasture, but excess growth can be harvested for hay. Producers can also use bahiagrass as a cash crop by harvesting and selling the seed or sod.

Bermudagrass - Improved hybrid bermudagrasses can be used for pasture and are well suited for hay production when grown on fertile, well-drained soils. In south Florida, though, they are generally less productive than stargrass. Bermudagrasses have high fertilization (nitrogen) requirements; under low fertilization, they are susceptible to invasion by other grasses. Several improved varieties are available: Tifton 85, Florakirk, Tifton 44, Callie, Coastcross-1, Suwannee, and Coastal.

Stargrass - Related to bermudagrass, stargrass is more productive but more limited in use; due to its lack of cold tolerance, it can be grown only in the peninsula south of Orlando. Stargrass is very high yielding when fertilized with high rates of nitrogen, and produces more fall growth than bahiagrass. Four varieties are available: Florico, Florona, Ona, and McCaleb. The stargrasses should be used under conditions of intensive grazing and high soil fertility. They are also suitable for hay or silage.

Limpograss (Hemarthria altissima) - Grown in both north and south Florida, limpograss is adapted only to moist flatwoods soils and is recommended for use on land that is too moist to grow other grasses. It has excellent fall and spring growth in south Florida. Growth can be accumulated or stockpiled in the late summer-early fall to be grazed as a standing hay crop in the late fall-early winter. Two varieties, Bigalta and Floralta, are highly digestible, but accumulated growth is low in protein. Floralta, much more tolerant of grazing, has generally replaced Bigalta. But Bigalta is still used as a harvested forage by some producers. The varieties Redalta and Greenalta are no longer recommended because of their lower digestibility.

Digitgrass - A palatable, high-quality, high-producing pasture and hay grass. Pangola and Taiwan are the principal varieties of digitgrass, which can be grown in south Florida on most soil types. New plantings are generally restricted to new land, or land that is free of weedy grasses such as common bermuda and bahia. Digitgrass will not tolerate close grazing and is easily invaded by the aforementioned, less desirable grasses. Fall growth is minimal, and digitgrass is often slow to start spring growth. Nevertheless, many cattle producers still favor Pangola hay for its high palatability.

Rhodesgrass - Callide rhodesgrass is relatively new to Florida (the first seed was imported from Australia) but appears to be a productive grass, with good quality and exceptional fall growth (Figure 2). Most plantings have been made in south Florida. There is some concern about its degree of cold tolerance and, therefore, its persistence in north Florida. Some plantings have been lost due to winter freezes. Callide appears to be adapted to approximately the same areas of the state in which digitgrass and stargrass are grown.

Figure 2. 

Rhodesgrass is a seeded grass with excellent fall growth.


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Other Grasses - Other grasses include Roselawn, St. Augustine, and paragrass. These have been used in south Florida, on and around the organic soils of the Everglades.

Summer Annual Grasses

Summer annual grasses are planted on cultivated land where fast growing, high-quality, temporary pasture is needed. These grasses can be used in pasture renovation programs, and are usually planted to furnish high-quality grazing for young animals.

Pearl Millet - Adapted to well-drained soils, pearl millet is suitable for grazing or green chopping.

Sorghum X Sudangrass - This species is similar to pearl millet in adaptation, use, and fertility requirements, but appears to be slightly more tolerant of the saturated soil conditions (high water table) that occur on flatwoods during the summer.

Japanese and Browntop Millet - These are relatively low-yielding, rapidly maturing summer annual grasses that have been used as cover crops or nurse crops when planting bahiagrass.

Summer Perennial Legumes

Perennial Peanut - A summer legume that is persistent and very high in quality, perennial peanut is adapted to well-drained soils and will not tolerate flooding. Planting is accomplished by digging and planting rhizomes. Without irrigation, establishment is risky, often requiring two or more years to develop an adequate stand. At present, two varieties are available: Florigraze and Arbrook. Perennial peanut can be grazed, or used for hay production.

Florida Carpon Desmodium - Best suited to southern Florida, carpon desmodium is adapted to flatwoods soils. It is susceptible to several root-knot nematode species and should not be planted on old vegetable fields or other areas where root-knot nematode infestation is suspected.

Savanna Stylo - A short-lived perennial adapted to soils with good drainage in south Florida, Savanna stylo can be grown as a reseeding annual in areas of the state where frost does not occur before mid-December. Farther north on the peninsula, it can be grown as an annual. Savanna stays green and holds its leaves until frost.

Summer Annual Legumes

Summer annual legumes can provide high-quality grazing from midsummer to early fall, compensating for a seasonal drop in quality that occurs in many perennial grasses. These legumes must be established (or reestablished) from seed each season. There is always some risk in getting them established, due to intermittent drought or competition from the pasture grass. Planting is generally delayed until June when the summer rains start, so the legumes are often unavailable for grazing until mid-July. Summer annual legumes can all be managed as reseeding annuals. Burning and/or chopping may be needed each spring to assist reestablishment through natural reseeding.

Common Aeschynomene - (Aeschynomene Americana) A tall-growing annual legume adapted to flatwoods soils, aeschynomene can tolerate extremely wet conditions once seedlings are well established. Overseeded on bahia or other grasses, it furnishes highly palatable, good quality forage during late summer and early fall.

Hairy Indigo - A tall-growing summer annual adapted to droughty upland sands throughout Florida, hairy indigo will not tolerate flooding. It is nutritious, but low in palatability.

Alyceclover - An excellent hay plant adapted to well-drained soils, alyceclover is often planted behind watermelons or vegetables to provide a one-time hay crop.

Phasey Bean - A short-lived perennial that often functions as an annual in less-than-favorable environments, phasey bean is adapted to moist flatwoods soils and will contribute to pasture forage production for one or two years past planting. One recommendation is to use it in mixtures with aeschynomene and/or carpon desmodium. Wildlife plantings of phasey bean provide both seed for quail and forage acceptable to deer.

Cool Season Forages

Winter Perennial Grasses

Well-adapted winter perennial grasses are not available in Florida. However, a new variety of tall fescue, Georgia-5, shows considerable promise on the heavier clay soils of the Panhandle, and also on the moist flatwoods of northeast Florida.

Winter Annual Grasses

Winter annual grasses include ryegrass and the small grains—rye, oats, wheat, and triticale. Any of these can be used for grazing, green chop, hay, or silage. In Florida, winter annual grasses can be successfully grown when (or where) winter and spring rainfall are adequate. The region extending north from Ocala has demonstrated the most consistent success with these grasses. Small grains and ryegrass can be grown in the region extending south from Ocala, especially when planted in a clean-tilled seedbed. Overseeding of grass sods involves greater risk and can easily fail due to inadequate soil moisture. When overseeding warm season perennial grass sods, delay the planting date until cool weather begins and the perennial grasses stop growing.

Rye - This small grain is widely used for grazing. Rye is more cold tolerant than oats and generally produces more forage than either oats or wheat.

Oats - These can be planted and grazed earlier than rye when planted in clean-tilled seedbeds. Oats are quite palatable but susceptible to frost injury. Young animals can achieve higher average daily gains on oats compared to rye.

Wheat - Similar to oats in yield and palatability, only the Hessian-fly-resistant varieties of wheat should be planted.

Triticale - Grown primarily for grain, certain varieties of triticale can also be used for forage.

Ryegrass - A valuable winter and spring crop for use on moist flatwoods soils or the heavier sandy loam soils in northwest Florida, ryegrass can be seeded alone or with a small grain into a prepared seedbed, or overseeded onto permanent grass pastures. Since ryegrass grows later in the spring than the small grains, growing them in combination lengthens the grazing season. Also, though mainly used for grazing, ryegrass will produce a high-quality spring hay crop.

Winter Legumes

White Clover - Usually a winter annual, white clover can perform as a perennial under optimum soil fertility and moisture conditions. It is adapted to moist soils throughout the state and can withstand temporary flooding. Only limited areas in peninsular Florida retain sufficient soil moisture during winter to successfully grow white clover. Wherever white clover can be grown, producers are encouraged to try the variety Osceola, which was specially developed for use in Florida.

Red Clover - Under growing conditions in Florida, red clover performs as a winter annual. It can be grown throughout the state, but only on soils with good drainage since it will not tolerate flooding or saturated soils. However, red clover should not be planted on deep droughty sands either, but rather on soils with good moisture-holding capacity. These are soils with higher-than-average clay or organic-matter content, or sands with an underlying layer of clay.

Since red clover does not generally produce enough seed of sufficient quality to regenerate itself through natural reseeding, it must be replanted each year. However, some producers on the heavier soils in the panhandle of Florida have achieved reseeding stands by proper summer grazing management. Red clover produces higher yields than most other winter annual legumes. Several varieties are available, but Cherokee (developed in Florida) is the most productive.

Crimson Clover - A reseeding annual, crimson clover is adapted to the same soils as red clover, but is recommended only for central and north Florida. It has a relatively short grazing season, and can be grown in combination with ryegrass or small-grain crops.

Other cool season legumes of lesser importance include alfalfa, arrowleaf clover, lupine, sweet clover, Austrian winter peas, and vetch. Forages other than those discussed can be grown in Florida. (Some of them are listed in Table 1.) But these are generally less widely grown, less well adapted, or less productive than the forages already discussed.

Liming and Fertilization

Many Florida soils are deficient in one or more of the plant nutrients essential to forage or pasture plants. Such deficiencies must be corrected to ensure establishment, optimum yield, and persistence of the pasture plants.

The primary concerns for soil fertility in Florida are correction of soil acidity (pH) by application of lime, and the addition of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Many of our soils contain high levels of phosphorus, and, in these cases, phosphorus should not be applied. Usually, micronutrients (copper, zinc, boron, etc.) need only be applied when new, or native, land is planted.

The first priority in establishing or replanting a pasture is to adjust soil pH, which is a measure of soil acidity. Dolomite or calcitic lime can be used, and should be applied according to soil test recommendations. Try to apply the lime 3 to 6 months prior to tilling and planting new pasture. Reliming of established pasture may be necessary following many years of use. Hay fields, where high rates of nitrogen fertilizer are used, often need to be limed more frequently. Use soil testing to monitor pH levels on hay fields.

Grazed pastures require relatively small amounts of fertilizer compared to areas that are harvested for hay or silage; removal of hay or silage also removes nutrients from the land. Grazing animals return many nutrients through their manure and urine deposits. But distribution of the recycled nutrients is poor, with a considerable amount of the nitrogen lost through volatilization. Use the recommendations that come with your IFAS (Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences) soil test report to guide your fertilization program.

Pasture Establishment

A producer can establish pasture on new ground, following a row crop, or by complete destruction and replanting of old pasture to new species. Establishment of a new forage crop requires detailed planning. Plan well in advance of the expected planting date so that a smooth, weed-free seedbed can be prepared. Switching from an old forage type to a new one can require a renovation program using annual cultivated crops for 1 to 2 years prior to planting new forage. Plan ahead.

Seedbed Preparation

Prepare seedbeds in the following manner:

  • Destroy all vegetation.

  • Loosen and condition the soil.

  • Level the soil surface.

  • Provide a firm soil surface.

Primary tillage can be accomplished using a heavy cutting disk or moldboard plow. Use moldboard plows to renovate old pasture; use cutting disks on land where stumps might be present. Secondary tillage uses a finishing disk and drag. Obtaining the desired seedbed can require repeated disking. The final disking should be done just ahead of planting to destroy any germinating weeds (Figure 3). A cultipacker or roller should be used to provide a firm seedbed, especially for small-seeded grasses and legumes, like bahiagrass and clovers.

Figure 3. 

A well-prepared seedbed should have vegetation killed, a fine granular texture, and a firm, level surface.


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Planting

Planting dates, seeding rates, and planting depths for Florida forage crops established from seed are shown in Table 1. Information on Florida forage crops established from vegetative materials is provided in Table 2.

Various methods can be employed for seeding. When seed is costly, use a precision seeder such as a conventional drill, sod drill, or cultipacker-type seeder. Various equipment for broadcasting seed is available as well. Another method is to mix seed with fertilizer. After the seed has been broadcast on the soil surface, some type of tillage tool such as a finishing disk (or light drag) can be used to cover the seed; this is often followed by a cultipacker or roller to firm soil around the seed. If seed is extra small, the cultipacker alone may be all that is needed to cover the seed. Be careful not to cover the seed too deeply (see planting depths, Table 1). While broadcasting seed is usually faster than precision seeding, it results in less accurate seed placement: some seed is lost, planted too deep, or not deep enough. Therefore, when broadcasting seed, use the high end of any recommended seeding rate range.

If lime is needed, apply it before primary tillage. Apply the necessary types and amounts of fertilizer nutrients as soon as new plants emerge from the soil. When establishing grasses, apply only a small amount of nitrogen (30 to 50 lb per acre) initially; then apply additional nitrogen as plants grow and start to cover the ground.

Pasture Management

Pasture Fertilization

Nitrogen is usually the first and most frequently limiting nutrient in Florida's warm season perennial grass pastures. Nitrogen (plus any phosphorus and potassium needed) should be applied in late winter to early spring, when grasses begin active growth (green-up). Good pasture growth is particularly valuable in the spring, when most cows are under high “nutritional stress” due to nursing calves and rebreeding. Although fall application of fertilizer is not useful on bahiagrass, it is often useful on grasses that have good fall growth such as limpograss, stargrass, and Callide rhodesgrass.

Grazing Management

Types of grazing management vary from low level to very intensive, depending upon the producer's objectives. Some producers may want only one or two pastures stocked at a low level, requiring minimum management. Other producers may want the maximum amount of beef production possible from their land; they should use highly productive forages and divide the land into several pastures. With the land divided, animals can be rotated through a series of pastures, which allows higher stocking rates (number of animals per unit of land). A conventional rotational stocking (rotational grazing) system, for example, uses four pastures into which animals are rotated on a weekly basis.

Improvements in electric fencing have generated increased interest in—and practice of—more intensive grazing management. The idea is to concentrate a large number of animals onto a small area for a short period of time (1 to 2 days). The animals graze the forage down to some preselected stubble height, and then are moved to fresh pasture. Systems of this type can require from 14 to 28 pasture subdivisions.

It is not entirely clear just how much of an increase in beef production can be gained from intensive grazing systems using tropical (perennial) grasses. In the past, some newswriters have made what appear to be exaggerated claims of extremely high stocking rates (resulting in greatly increased beef production) due to intensive rotational grazing. Producers using this type of grazing system should be careful not to overstock, and not to limit the forage intake of young animals.

Some form of rotational grazing is generally recommended to simplify management for many of the improved grasses and legumes. Most of these forages need rest periods to recover from grazing and trampling, and to maintain uniform stands. Rotation prevents overgrazing and reduces spot grazing. But most of the forages discussed can be grazed continuously, provided they are managed carefully.

Bahiagrass is the one improved grass that can be grazed continuously with little concern for overgrazing or destruction of the stand. Its prostate growth habit under heavy grazing and its abundant supply of thick stolons allow bahiagrass to survive and recover from overgrazing by cattle. (However, horses can—through overgrazing and extreme traffic—destroy a stand of bahiagrass.)

Weed Control

Weeds are usually not a problem in pastures where a thick stand of grass is maintained. Mowing in late summer or early fall (before seeds are produced) is sufficient to control many annual broadleaf weeds.

Excellent herbicides are available for control of most annual and many perennial broadleaf weeds in grass pastures (Figure 4). However, herbicides to control weeds in pastures containing legumes are not available for broadcast application. Certain wipe-on herbicides can be useful in legume pastures. If a weed problem occurs, you should first identify the weed and then determine the best method for control. Contact your cooperative Extension service office for up-to-date information on herbicides for weed control in pastures.

Figure 4. 

Weeds reduce forage growth, but can be controlled with herbicides and other pasture management techniques.


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Insect Control

Foliage-feeding worms can be a problem in pastures—and especially in hay fields—that have been fertilized in late summer or early fall. Cattle egrets congregating in one area often indicate the presence of such worms. Usually, pastures can still be grazed to utilize forage before it is destroyed, and the egrets will pick up many of the worms. Hay fields that are not ready for harvest might need to be sprayed, however. (Since registration of insecticides can change from month to month, contact your cooperative extension service office for the most recent update on what is presently approved.) Occasionally, other insects such as mole crickets, chinch bugs, and spittle bugs can cause problems as well.

Hay Production

Hay can be harvested from areas devoted strictly to hay production, or from pastures with excess accumulations of late-summer growth. Peak production time is midsummer, during the rainy season. Most hay growers try to make at least one cutting before the rainy season begins.

In north Florida, on upland soils, grass hay can be harvested during summer, but the seasonal rain often lowers its quality by causing delays in harvest, leaching nutrients, promoting mold, or rotting the forage. On south Florida flatwoods, it is almost impossible to make hay during summer. Therefore, most south Florida hay is made from accumulated fall growth, which usually results in relatively low-quality hay.

Low-quality grass hay can be improved by ammoniation. Also, some producers are utilizing roll-baled silage in order to harvest during wet weather. The large, roll-bale hay baler rolls up wilted forage; the bale is then wrapped in plastic and allowed to ferment. Since this process is more expensive than making hay, it should be used only for good quality forage, and only when it is impossible to make hay.

Most of Florida's hay is produced from warm season perennial grasses, with improved hybrid bermudagrasses constituting the most important hay grasses. To make high-quality hay, bermudagrass (or any of our perennial grasses) should be harvested and fertilized on a 4- to 5-week schedule. The first spring harvest should be taken when grass is 14 to 16 inches tall; plan to take the next harvest four weeks later, or when weather permits (Figure 5). While the sun shines, make hay—don't delay!

Figure 5. 

Harvest perennial grasses after 4- to 5-week regrowth. Remove bales from field as soon as possible after harvest. Store on a dry area.


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Producers with small herds and limited land area may find it more feasible to purchase hay rather than trying to grow and harvest their own. For one thing, buying your own haying equipment might not be cost effective unless you enter the custom baling business. And if you grow your own hay, depending on custom harvesters can result in delayed harvests; most producers will want their hay harvested at the same time as you—when the weather is clear.

Summary

This chapter has dealt briefly with the subject of forages in Florida. Other publications that provide more detail on specific forage crops and management practices are available. These can be obtained from your county cooperative extension service.

Tables

Table 1. 

Planting dates, seeding rates, and planting depths for common forage crops in Florida planted from seed.

Forage Crops Planted from Seeda

Planting Dates

Seeding Ratesb

Planting Depths

Fallc

   

Alfalfa

Oct 01-Nov 15

12-20

1/4-1/2"

Clover

     
  • Arrowleaf

Oct 01-Nov 15

8-10

0-1/2"

  • Berseem

Oct 01-Nov 15

16-20

1/4-1/2"

  • Crimson

Oct 01-Nov 15

20-26

1/4-1/2"

  • Red

Oct 01-Nov 15

12-15

1/4-1/2"

  • Rose

Oct 01-Nov 15

18-22

1/4-1/2"

  • Subterranean

Oct 01-Nov 15

18-22

1/4-1/2"

  • White

Oct 01-Nov 15

3-4

0-1/4"

Fescue, tall

Oct 01-Nov 15

16-20

1/4-1/2"

Oats-forage

Sept 15-Nov 15

96-128 (3-4 bu)

1-2"

Pea

     
  • Austrian winter

Oct 01-Nov 15

45-60

1/2-1"

  • Rough/singletary/caley

Oct 01-Nov 15

30-40

1/2-1"

Rescuegrass

Oct 01-Nov 15

24-30

1/4-1/2"

Rye-forage

Oct 15-Nov 15

84-112 (1.5-2.0 bu)

1-2"

Ryegrass, Italian (annual)

Oct 01-Nov 15

20-30

0-1/2"

Sweet clover

Oct 01-Nov 15

12-15

1/4-1/2"

Triticale-forage

Oct 15-Nov 15

84-112 (1.5-2.0 bu)

1-2"

Turnips

Oct 01-Nov 15

5-6

1/4"-1/2"

Vetch, hairy

Oct 01-Nov 15

20-30

1-2"

Wheat-forage

Oct 01-Nov 15

90-120 (1.5-2.0 bu)

1-2"

Spring and Summer

   

Alyceclover

Apr 15-June 30

12-15

1/4-1/2"

Aeschynomene

Mar 30-June 30

6-8 (dehulled)

1/4-1/2"

Bahiagrassd

Feb 15-Aug 15

15-20

1/4-1/2"

Corn

     
  • Temperate

Feb 15-Apr 15

See notee

 
  • Tropical

Apr 15-June 15

See notee

 

Cowpea

Apr 01-July 31

100-120 (60-90)f

1-3"

Desmodium, Florida carpon

Mar 30-June 30

3-5

1/4-1/2"

Indigo, hairy

Apr 01-June 30

6-8

1/4-1/2"

Millet

     
  • Brown top

Feb 15-Aug 15

5-10

1/2-1"

  • Japanese

Feb 15-Aug 15

5-10

1/2-1"

  • Pearl

Mar 15-June 30

24-30

1/2-1 1/2"

Phasey bean

Mar 30-June 30

10-12

1/4-1/2"

Rhodesgrass

Feb 15-Aug 15

8-10

0-1/4"

Sorghum-forage

Apr 01-June 30

10-15 (6-8)f

1-2"

Sorghum X sudangrass

Mar 15-June 30

24-30 (10-20)f

1-2"

Stylosanthes

Feb 15-June 30

10-12

1/4-1/2"

aAlways check seed quality (% germination, dormancy, weed seed, other crop seed, and trash). Seed germination should be 80% or higher for best results.

bSeeding rates: lb per acre broadcast.

cPlanting Date Range: In general, cool-season forage crops in north Florida can be planted in the early part of the planting date range and, in south Florida, during the later part of the range. Also, planting in a clean-tilled seedbed can generally be done earlier than sodseeding (overseeding).

dBahiagrass may be planted over a wide range of dates, but February or June are preferred dates under most conditions. Seeding Rates: Higher seeding rates (up to 40 lb per acre) can be used for faster grass coverage. The seed of certain new cultivars of bahiagrass may be very high priced and thus require a low seeding rate. If less than 10 lb of seed is planted, be sure that % germination is greater than 80% and that % dormancy of the seed is low. Plant only in a well-prepared, smooth seedbed using a precision planter. Mow regularly to control weeds.

eConsult seed company recommendations for hybrid or cultivar used.

fSeeding Rate: lb per acre when planted in rows 30-36" wide, instead of broadcast.

Table 2. 

Planting dates and rates for common forage crops in Florida that are planted from vegetative material.

Forage Crops Planted from Vegetative Material

Planting Dates and Planting Rates

Bermudagrasses

Plant between January 15 and March 15, or between June 1 and August 15.a

Use underground stems (rhizomes) and sod crowns.

To obtain planting material use a commercial sprig digger, or use a plow or disk and pitch forks.

Plant 30 to 40 bushels per acre.

To plant, use a commercial sprig planter; or broadcast sprigs onto the soil surface cover with a disk, and firm soil with a cultipacker or heavy land roller.

Bermudagrasses

Digitgrasses

Limpograss (Hemarthria)

Stargrass

Plant between June 1 and August 15.a

All these grasses can be planted from upright stems (green tops). Use mature grass (6+ weeks).

To cut tops, use a mower similar to a mower used for harvesting hay. Tops may be handled loose, or made into bales using conventional hay balers.

Plant 1000 to 1500 lb green tops per acre.

Special machines for broadcasting tops are available. Uniformly scatter planting material over soil surface; cover immediately, using a finishing disk set at a slight angle. Firm the soil with a cultipacker or heavy land roller. Fertilize appropriately and control weeds.

Perennial Peanut

Plant between January 15 and March 15.

Use a commercial sprig digger to harvest rhizomes (underground stems).
Plant 80+ bushels per acre.
Plant rhizomes in a well-prepared seedbed, using a row-type commercial sprig planter. Pack soil after planting. Irrigate to ensure successful establishment.

aFor southern Florida, plantings can be made later in the year, provided soil moisture conditions are favorable.

Footnotes

1.

This document is AN118, one of a series of the Animal Sciences Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 2001. Revised October 2007. Reviewed September 2012. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Pat Miller, county Extension director and Extension agent Okeechobee County; and Elzy Lord, former Extension agent, Alachua County, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.