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Switchgrass for Livestock Forage

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Experienced cattle ranchers know the best time of year for each cutting of hay.  Those returning to the use of native switchgrass are relearning the process with this super-efficient food source for their livestock.  Although farmer Brad Black has been growing switchgrass exclusively for an experimental biofuel program in Tennessee, he says he may be feeding some to his cattle in the future.  Even after the field tests are done, stands of the tall grasses can keep reseeding for several years.

During a Biomass Field Day sponsored in part by the University of Tennessee, Pat Keyser shared research from the UT Center for Native Grasslands Management.  He stressed that farmers can use switchgrass as forage in lean times.  Keyser cited feeding experiments with steers allowed to graze on switchgrass stands.  They gained between a pound and a half and two pounds per day.  UT researchers have been learning the best time of year for switchgrass cuttings to provide the best nutrient mix.

Farm equipment dealers see a dual market for both biomass production and conventional ranching.  Those demonstrating cutting and baling at the  field day were sure to point out both uses for their machines.  David Friedersdorf of German-built Claas equipment boasted of his baler, “It’s the densest bale on the market as far as pounds per cubic foot.”  Competitor New Holland distributed literature citing, “fast core starts and dense bales.”

Black says several of his neighbors have been trying switchgrass as nourishment for their livestock.  “If you’re wanting to try it for forage production, I think it can work in a situation.  We didn’t have any work this year and it looks like it’s still gonna make six and half tons of dry matter.  And corn was making 40 bushels an acre.”

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