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Cereals as hay crops

Cereals are the main source of human food and are, as a group, the most widespread crops. Most are also grown as fodders, or used as fodder when market conditions make that interesting. Their straws and stovers are very important sources of livestock feed, especially for large ruminants, and cereal stubble is often grazed. Straws are far more appreciated in developing countries than in more intensive systems. Whereas straw, which has lost most of its leaves, is a coarse, poor feed, excellent hay can be made from cereals if they are cut while they are still leafy, otherwise the product will be little better than straw. Oats and barley are commonly grown for hay, while wheat is not as good, and rye is coarse. Drought-affected crops are frequently made into hay.

Small-grain cereals

These are the staple crops of the temperate zone, as well as much of the subtropics, where they are grown in winter, or at altitude. Wheat is the major cereal; barley, which is important for malting as well as for human and livestock food, is next in importance; oats and rye are of local importance for grain, mostly in cool areas of low soil fertility. Oat is also widely grown specifically as fodder and stock-feed.

The cultural techniques for cereals are well known and widespread in field-crop growing. "White-straw crops" are drilled with a cereal drill or broadcast into a well-prepared, clean seedbed at high seed rates. Seed-bed fertilizer should be according to local recommendations, and many drills can place some of the fertilizer at the same time as the seed. Top-dressing with nitrogen should be foreseen; in the case of multi-cut fodders, further top-dressing should be provided after each cut but the last. Little weeding is done, although the usual herbicides can be used and tall weeds removed by hand. In Asia, cereals are frequently hand-weeded and the weeds carried off as green fodder. High yields of seed can be expected from fodder cereals. Seed of specialized fodder oats are not, however, always freely available in developing countries.


Avena sativa, A. byzantina, and A. strigosa

A tall, annual cereal, widely grown as a fodder in temperate and subtropical countries. It also does well in the high-altitude tropics. Grain oats are used widely as animal feed as well as for human consumption, grazing and conservation.

Common oat (A. sativa) cultivars are by far the most widespread. A. byzantina is adapted to warmer, subtropical conditions, while the bristle-pointed oat (A. strigosa) is adapted to poor soils and low summer temperatures, and has been cultivated for grain and straw in the more mountainous parts of northern Europe and in places in eastern and central Europe, where conditions do not suit the common oat.

Figure 15. A good crop of multi-cut oats on a small farm (Punjab, Pakistan)

Numerous cultivars are available to suit many agro-ecological conditions and different uses. Fodder oats which provide several cuts have been developed.

Oats may be grown in mixtures with annual, twining legumes such as peas and vetches, but it is essential that the growth cycles of the two crops match, otherwise the legume will have dried and shattered before the oats are at the cutting stage. Oats are a very useful "nurse" crop to grow with winter clovers such as Egyptian clover (berseem) (Trifolium alexandrinum) if used at light seed rates so as to give the establishing clover enough light to grow; the faster-growing and more cold-resistant oats provide early cuts at a season when green feed is scarce and clover growth stopped or very slow.

The time of sowing varies widely, according to the wide range of climates where oats are grown. In areas of very cold winters, they are spring sown; in temperate climates, both autumn and spring sowing occurs; in the Mediterranean and subtropical regions, they are mainly autumn-sown for hay; in the high altitude tropics, they are sown at the onset of the rainy season.

Local practices regarding seed rates and mixtures vary widely, and rates range from as low as 60 kg/ha to over 100 kg/ha.

Oats are often mixed with vetches, and sometimes peas, for hay or silage, as the cereal gives support to the trailing legume. However, the oat seed rate should be reduced by about half the normal for a pure stand, and the growth cycles of both crops must synchronize. A light seeding of oats is useful to give an early bite in Egyptian clover (berseem).

Single-cut types are mown after flowering, but multi-cut types should be cut earlier to encourage further growth. Mowing and hand-cutting are easy and the crop gives few problems in the making of hay. With a single-cut crop, it should be mown once the grains are formed; multi-cut types should be mown just prior to flowering, and the ultimate cut should be when the grain is well formed.

Oats are largely self-pollinated, so farmers can save their own seed for several crops, provided that rogueing is carried out and the usual precautions taken against mechanical contamination. The closely-related wild oats (A. fatua, A. ludoviciana) are serious weeds of cereal fields and care should be taken to avoid their presence in cultivated oats since the wild ones shed their seeds before harvest and would, thereafter, cause much damage in subsequent wheat crops. The introduction of fodder oats for demonstration purposes in the Kandahar region of Afghanistan was refused by the farming community because of their detestation of the wild oat.


Hordeum vulgare

An annual cereal mainly grown for its grain, which is widely used as food, for beverages and as stock-feed. Barley is used in temperate and subtropical countries as a fodder and hay in areas which are too dry or on soils too alkaline for oats. Barley is not as good as oats for hay or for grazing, but is valuable for dry, very high, or saline sites. Rough-awned barleys are less palatable than other cereals, and may cause damage to the mouths of livestock. It is sometimes sown, at reduced seed rates, in mixture with vetch or red clover. Autumn-sown barley, under Mediterranean conditions, may be grazed in late winter and early spring, and provided grazing is not prolonged too long the crop will give a satisfactory seed yield. Cultivation and haymaking is as for oats

Barley is more drought-resistant and faster maturing than oats, and may be preferred on light, dry or saline soils. It is widely used for fodder in western and central Asia. Naked barley, which threshes free of the glumes, is grown at very high altitudes in the Himalayas, and on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, it is grown at over 4 000 m in the Lhasa river valley, well above the limit of spring wheat.


Secale cereale

An annual widely used for winter pasture in North America and as a minor cereal in parts of Europe. It is adapted to poor soils and severe winters.


Triticum aestivum

Wheat is the most important cereal of temperate areas, and worldwide only second to rice. It is the preferred food throughout most of the temperate and subtropical areas. Wheat-rice rotations cover large parts of the Asian subtropics, with rice as the summer crop. Wheat straw is an important fodder throughout these areas. It is not widely grown specifically as fodder but is often grazed in winter in areas where this is possible, and then allowed to grow on for grain. In parts of the Himalayan region it is cut as fodder in time of scarcity, but is less productive than oats. Replacement of wheat-cutting by good fodder oats could improve productivity in many mountain areas in Asia. Drought-affected crops are often taken as hay or green feed. Wheat straw is an important fodder in small-scale farming areas.

Hay from coarse grains

Maize, some of the millets and sorghum were at one time dried as hay on large-scale farms, but with the development of modern silage making techniques such haymaking has almost disappeared and the coarse cereals, especially maize, are major silage crops. In small-scale farming, however, some are still made into hay; when the heads are hand-harvested for grain and the still-green stover dried for fodder as frequently happens, the dividing line between stover and hay is a not a very clear one. Maize and grain sorghums are usually sown by spot planting, either by hand, by hand-fed single-animal-drawn drill or by a planter which drops seeds at spaced intervals - usually through a plate-feed mechanism.


Zea mays

Maize, known as 'corn' in North America, is grown wherever summers are warm enough and rainfall or water supply adequate. It is important as fodder, the grain is widely used in livestock feed, the stover is fed to livestock, especially in the developing world, and the crop is grown specifically as fodder on a large scale. Tropical maizes may reach four metres in height; those in temperate and subtropical areas are mostly under two metres. It is the supreme silage crop, but is sometimes dried as "hay."

Maize for fodder is harvested at a slightly less mature growth stage than for grain (about two weeks pre-maturity, but with the grains fully formed but not quite hard; the greater part of the digestible energy is in the cobs and grain) and is now often grown for silage in areas where a seed crop would be risky. Maize is widely used as a fodder catch-crop in subtropical irrigated areas; it is broadcast thickly and the cultivar is of little importance.

Maize has a very large number of cultivars and hybrids with different maturity periods, and it will grow under a wide range of agro-ecological conditions, but requires high temperatures for good growth. Locally-adapted hybrids, where available, are far higher yielding than open-pollinated selections. It is mainly grown in the warm temperate and humid subtropical zones. In the tropics, it can be grown up to about 3 000 m elevation, but is better below 2 400 m. Maize does not tolerate waterlogging and requires high fertility, but within these very wide limits it can be grown in most fertile soils. Cultivars to fit a wide range of rainfall patterns are available. Maize is not drought resistant (although it can stand some drought when young), and drought-escaping short-duration types have been developed for areas with short rainy seasons.

Maize should be sown in lines into a well-prepared seed-bed. Row and plant spacings depend on cultivar and fertility level. It is often hill-sown, either with a precision seeder or by hand, and 80 - 120 cm is the main row-width range, but may be closer under irrigation with small cultivars. Plant populations are between 25 000 and 75 000 plants per hectare. It is very important to obtain a full and even stand, and therefore the seed should not be broadcast. Sowing with a wheat drill often leads to uneven stands, so a specialized drill, or hand sowing, is to be preferred. Since spacings are wide, maize is easy to sow by hand where the areas involved are not too large; various simple funnel-and-tube arrangements on traditional animal-drawn ploughs are used with success by experienced farmers.

Choice of cultivar is very local and information on that, planting times, spacings, etc., should always be sought locally. Fertilizer application, both in the seedbed and as top-dressings, is necessary for a heavy yield; maize is not a crop for poor or worn-out soils. Weed control is essential from the outset, until the plants shade the inter-row. Maize is a monoecious, diclinous, wind-pollinated plant, so selection of open-pollinated cultivars has a limited effect. Hybrids, where available, have a far higher yield potential than open-pollinated seed. Hybrid seed can only be produced by organized enterprises and has to be purchased by farmers. Although the isolation distances required for hybrid seed production are large, it is possible to produce it under small-scale farming conditions if a whole geographical group or village agrees - as is done commercially in parts of China.

"Corn fodder" - dried maize grown specifically as feed - was at one time cut with a corn-binder, field dried and stored as hay, but this has probably been replaced by ensiling in mechanized farming. It still is widely used in India and Pakistan as kadbi (with sorghum and bulrush millet, as well as maize); the stalks are hand-cut, dried on the field, bunched and stacked upright, and this system works well where there is a long rainless season after harvest. In USA and southern Africa, the whole plant, with the cobs and grain, is sometimes harvested dry and ground as feed on large-scale farms where livestock are important.


Sorghum bicolor

Sorghum - a tall, clump-forming, tillering annual or short-term, ratooning perennial with culms up to at least 4 m high - is fourth in importance among the world's cereals, and is also an important fodder. It is widely grown in the drier parts of Africa and Asia for human consumption; it provides good malt and is important in brewing in parts of Africa and, notably, China. Its stover is a valuable feed, fuel and building material. In dry, hot areas of developed countries, it is grown for stock-feed. It is, however, susceptible to bird damage and has a big bird-scaring labour requirement under savannah conditions: maize is often preferred, in Africa, by small-scale farmers, despite the risk of crop loss in a drought year.

Sorghum has a very wide range of adaptation and can produce a grain crop under conditions which are unfavourable for maize and most other cereals. It can be grown on poorer soils and in drier climates than maize It thrives on heavy soils, including cracking clays, even with temporary waterlogging. Even in the seedling stage, sorghum is drought-hardy and suited to areas of unreliable rainfall. Seedling can survive wilting for at least two weeks and then recommence growth. The rainfall range is 400 - 755 mm. It is a crop for hot to warm conditions, and is killed by frost. Under equatorial conditions, it can grow up to about 2 200 m above sea level, although most is grown below 1 000 m, but traditional, cold-tolerant types are used at much higher elevations in Ethiopia. Its latitudinal range is 40° on either side of the Equator. Its range of pH adaptation (5.0 - 8.5) is wide; it withstands salinity better than maize. Sorghum is a short-day plant with marked response to photoperiod, so cultivars must be chosen accordingly; sorghums which grow tall as a summer crop may flower as dwarfs if grown in the shorter days.

Cultivated sorghums can be classified in five groups:

- Grain sorghums are grown principally for grain, but may be used as fodder.

- Sorgos, the stems of which contain sweet juice, are used on a small scale for sugar making in Asia; they are grown as fodders, especially in the USA and are used in the development of fodder hybrids. While grain sorghums are frequently used as fodder, in more intensive production specially developed fodder cultivars are used - usually crosses between grain and sugar sorghums. These have a higher sugar content than ordinary sorghums and are less liable to cause prussic acid poisoning.

- "Grass" sorghums are species used as fodder (see below), of which Sudan grass (S. ´ drummondii (syn. sudanense), Columbus grass (S. ´ almum) and Johnson grass (S. halepense) are among the most important.

- Broomcorns (used in brush-making) and special-purpose sorghums (grown for starch making or pop-sorghum) have no importance as fodders.

All sorghums may contain a cyanogenic glycoside, dhurrin, which can be toxic. The danger is greatest in young re-growth, either from the base or from old stems. Care should be taken before putting stock to graze on sorghum aftermath, especially when it is drought stressed. There is no danger once the herbage has been made into hay, nor is the stover toxic.

A well-prepared seedbed gives an even stand, essential for good fodder production. Since sorghum is parasitized by plants of the genus Striga, it should be sown in rotation, avoiding over-frequent use of the same land. The seed may be broadcast, hill-sown or drilled, but drilling is the most satisfactory for hay. Seed rates are of the order of 7 to 10 kg/ha (much lower rates are used for grain in dry areas). The young crop should be weeded; a later weeding should be done where Striga is present, but before the parasite has had time to shed seed. As with all cereals, seed production is straightforward. Sorghums are cross-pollinated, but also self-compatible. Sorghum fodder is often grown as a summer catch-crop in India and Pakistan; any available grain sorghum is broadcast at a high seed rate, during the monsoon, and cut as required, or mown and dried when the field is needed for another crop.

Sorghum is cut when the grains are formed, and then tied into bundles, stooked and field dried before storage. In the USA, sorghums with sweet stalks are considered to be the best for hay, and known as sorghum fodder. Sorghum hay is mainly made by hand in India and Pakistan. At one time in the USA, a corn binder was used. Sorghum hay should be chaffed before giving to livestock to avoid wastage.

Other sorghums for hay

Sudan grass

Sorghum drummondii (syn. sudanense)

A tillering, erect annual with slender stems up to 3 m high, developed in the USA as a fodder from Sudan material. It is now widespread in the dry tropics and subtropics and in temperate regions with hot summers. It is used for both hay and grazing, but there is some danger of prussic acid poisoning when grazed, especially if plant growth is checked; dry-season aftermath from seed crops is dangerous. It does not spread naturally and can be grown in arable rotations without danger of becoming a weed (cf S. halepense). It is now being replaced by interspecific hybrids in areas of intensive agriculture where hybrid seed is available.

Sudan grass is suited to areas with a hot growing season; it does not thrive in the humid tropics nor in cool, humid temperate conditions. Rainfall of 500 - 900 mm/yr suits the crop and it is frequently grown under irrigation. It will grow on a wide range of soils provided that they are not waterlogged, and it is moderately tolerant of salinity. In the equatorial tropics, it can be grown up to 2 000 m elevation.

Seed is drilled or broadcast into a firm seedbed at a depth of 1 to 3 cm. Seed rates vary widely, from 15 kg/ha in wide drills for low-rainfall areas, to 75 kg/ha in irrigated land. Row-planted crops should be cultivated for weed control. Fertilizer must of course be applied according to local needs. Sudan grass is a heavy seeder and can be harvested with a combine harvester; it can also be dried in stooks and threshed with a stationary thresher. Seed can be harvested from closely sown hay stands, but where seed is the main product it should be grown in widely spaced (60 - 90 cm) rows. It is cross-pollinated.

When harvesting as hay, Sudan grass recovers well after cutting and three or four cuts can be taken in one year, with more from irrigated crops. For hay, it is cut from flowering to the milk stage, at a height of 10 - 15 cm. A top-dressing of nitrogenous fertilizer is usually applied after each cut except the last. Conditioning of the forage to allow better stem drying is useful. It is made into hay in hot, dry areas where curing of the rather coarse herbage is not a problem.

Columbus grass

Sorghum almum

A tufted perennial, 1 - 3 m high, which originated in Argentina. It is used in the USA and in Australia as a pioneer crop in pasture development and for hay. It is adapted to warm areas with a rainfall of 450 - 750 mm/yr; it is susceptible to frost but will re-grow from its rhizomes after light frost.

Johnson grass

Sorghum halepense

A rhizomatous perennial, similar in many respects to Sudan grass, probably of Mediterranean origin, but its natural distribution extends east to India. It is adapted to areas of hot summers with rainfall of 500 - 750 mm/yr, and is cut back by frost, but re-grows from its rhizomes. Because of its long, robust rhizomes, it is a serious weed of arable land. It was introduced to the USA as a fodder crop in the early nineteenth century, and soon became a serious weed in some areas. It can be sown as for Sudan grass, or established by discing in rhizomes. Johnson grass produces good hay from naturally occurring stands, but is rarely established intentionally. Haymaking is as for Sudan grass.

Hybrid sorghums

Commercial hybrid fodder sorghums are now available, usually based on Sudan grass and grain sorghum. The male-sterile cultivar Redlan is frequently one parent. Most are F1 hybrids, so entail annual purchase of seed. They retain the multi-cut qualities of Sudan grass but have a much higher yield potential. These hybrids are suitable for both irrigated and rainfall conditions. Their cultivation is similar to that of Sudan grass, although low seed rates are often used because of cost. They are becoming popular for green fodder in some developing countries, notably in the irrigated tracts of Pakistan, where they have expanded greatly in the past ten years, partly due to the availability of imported seed. Apart from their high yields, long production season and good fodder popularity, they have the advantage over single-cut sorghum in monsoonal areas in that, sown well before the rains, they can provide several cuts without having to try to work land and sow during waterlogged conditions; only top-dressing after cutting is required. Seed is widely available internationally, but local production of hybrid sorghum seed is a specialized undertaking that is only worthwhile where the potential market is sufficiently large.


Many crops are referred to as "millet" so, in referring to literature, care should be taken to ascertain which species is being referred to. Bulrush millet is the one most commonly grown as a fodder in tropical and subtropical regions; some others may occasionally be grown as fodder; the straw of all is used. Foxtail millet (Setaria italica) and common or proso millet (Panicum miliaceum) are the common millets of northern China and many mountainous areas. Finger millet (Eleusine coracana) is important in parts of India and Africa. Echinochloa frumentacea is cultivated as a summer fodder in some countries, including India and Pakistan (where it is known as swank). Proso millet is rather too hairy to make palatable hay, but foxtail millet is sometimes grown for hay in the USA.

Bulrush millet

Pennisetum americanum

A tall, tillering annual, growing to 3 m, which is widely grown as a staple in the drier areas of Africa and India. It can produce a crop on poorer soil and lower rainfall than can maize or sorghum. In India, Pakistan, South Africa, and the USA, it is also grown as fodder. The straw is coarse, pithy and of low feeding value. It is very susceptible to bird attack. Some special fodder cultivars have been developed.

Bulrush millet is mainly grown in semi-arid regions on light, well-drained soils. In the Sahelian zone of Africa, it is grown under rainfalls as low as the 250 mm isohyet; for sown fodder, however, 500 mm of rainfall is needed for a good crop. While it can be grown on lower rainfalls than sorghum, it does not have the latter's facultative ability of going dormant during drought spells. It requires high temperatures; in the tropics it can be grown up to 1 500 m. On heavy soil where waterlogging might occur, it may be grown on ridges. It will grow on a wide range of soils and can produce a modest yield on land too poor to support better cereals. In India and Pakistan, it is sometimes irrigated. It is tolerant of salinity.

As a rainfed cereal, bulrush millet is often grown in mixed stands; for fodder, however, it should be grown pure. Seed rates vary from 3 to 9 kg/ha, the lower rates being used in India. Seed may be drilled or broadcast, and later thinned. For hay, a much denser stand than for grain is desirable as stems will be thinner. The vast bulk of millet seed is saved by the farmers; it is a mainly cross-pollinating crop; yields are high and the seed stores well.

For haymaking, the crop should be cut at the milky stage, before the stems become woody, and then tied into sheaves and dried in the field.

Grasses for hay

Rescue grass

Bromus catharticus (syn. unioloides)

A tufted, short-lived perennial from temperate and subtropical areas of Latin America, now cultivated in several subtropical and warm-temperate countries, and mainly used for hay. Its productive life is usually about two years. It is not invasive and is suitable for use in arable rotations.

It has a wide tolerance of soils and can withstand some frost. It is used in several warm and subtropical countries, including parts of New Zealand, South Africa and the USA. In the tropics, it has been used commercially at high altitudes in Colombia and (above 2 000 m) in eastern Africa. It was once popular in the Nakuru area of Kenya, but gave way to Rhodes grass, which, under those conditions, is longer-lived and more prolific.

It is easy to establish as its seeds are large and its seedlings strong, and can be drilled without difficulty. From 10 to 30 kg/ha of seed are used; in France, 50 kg/ha is recommended (Peyraud, 1985). It can be grown in mixture with lucerne, and with sainfoin and red clover in temperate areas. Rescue grass produces good yields of easily-harvrested seed.

Rescue grass makes excellent hay and has no particular difficulties. This is a short-term hay crop and, apart from top dressing when needed, no maintenance should be required.


Cenchrus ciliaris

A tufted, tussock-forming perennial, with many ecotypes, some rhizomatous, from drier areas of the old-world tropics and subtropics, now widely introduced to other hot, dry areas. It is very persistent and withstands grazing well.

It is a grass of warm areas and, at the Equator, it does best below 1 600 m. It can be grown in areas with over 300 mm of annual precipitation and requires well-drained soil, preferably deep; the upper rainfall limit is about 750 mm. Buffelgrass is grown in areas too dry for more productive species. Palatability varies greatly between cultivars. Its drought resistance and persistence may be partly due to a deep and strong root system.

Fresh Cenchrus ciliaris seed has very poor germination, but this improves in storage, with a peak at about two years. It is easy to establish from seed, but must be sown into a properly prepared seedbed. The seedlings are large, robust and can withstand short periods of drought after germination. The fluffy seed is not easy to sow, does not pass through drills easily and tends to "bridge" in the seed-box. Care must obviously be taken at sowing to ensure even spread; the seed should be covered by a light harrowing. For grazing or seed-production stands, line-planting at 50 - 75 cm is simple and satisfactory, but leads to large tufts which are problematical for haymaking. For hay, a close, even stand should be aimed at. Seed is commercially available internationally. Fields reserved for seed should be mown or grazed until just before the season when good conditions for harvest are expected, then cut to even height and closed to let the seed crop grow. Harvesting is by hand or by machines, which beat the ripe seed on to collecting trays. Seed remains viable for two to three years.

Buffelgrass withstands mowing well and makes reasonable hay; it should be cut at the early flowering stage. It grows in areas where drying is usually easy.

Buffelgrass responds to nitrogenous fertilizer but, in the semi-arid conditions under which it is grown, it is not often fertilized, except at installation. Slashing, to level the clumps, may be needed prior to growing it on for hay.

Rhodes grass

Chloris gayana

A stoloniferous, creeping perennial from tropical and subtropical Africa up to about 2 000 m altitude, which thrives under a wide range of temperatures and will withstand light frosts. It was introduced to cultivation in South Africa in the 1890s, and has since spread throughout the tropics and subtropics and become one of the most popular and widespread fodders as pasture and for hay. Rhodes grass is easy to establish and easy to eradicate, so does not become a weed in mixed farming systems.

Rhodes grass is drought resistant and will grow in areas of 500 - 600 mm annual rainfall; its preferred range is 750 - 1 500 mm; it is not well suited to very high rainfall areas. It grows under a wide range of soil conditions, except those which are very heavy or very acid. Its salt tolerance is high, and it can be used under irrigation on desert soils too alkaline for lucerne. Where salinity is irregular, some Rhodes grass seed can be added to lucerne and will cover patches too salty for the legume.

In pure stand, 0.5 to 1.0 kg/ha of pure germinating seed is adequate for a pure stand. It can be easily propagated vegetatively, with pieces of rooting stolons. Its ease of establishment probably has much to do with its popularity. The very small seed is enclosed in a light floret; care at sowing is necessary to avoid wind drift and to ensure only the lightest covering of the seed. Seedling growth and development is rapid and a cut can be expected, given adequate moisture, in six to eight weeks.

The crop is most productive in the first two or three cuts, unless it is heavily fertilized. Crop life is three to five years. Seed production is easy; but, as it is a cross-pollinating plant, different cultivars of the same ploidy should be separated by at least 200 m. Crops specifically sown for seed are usually row-planted; nitrogenous fertilizer should be applied to seed crops at up to 100 kg/ha N. Heads can be harvested by sickle when hand-rubbing shows that a good number of ripe and fully-filled caryopses are present; the cut heads are carefully transported, dried and threshed. Seed will germinate soon after threshing, but germination improves over several months, reaching a peak at one year. Rhodes grass seed stores well and will keep at least three years. Seed is produced commercially in several countries, and Australia and Kenya are big producers. It is one of the most readily available tropical grasses.

Rhodes grass leaves and stems are fine, and it produces uniform herbage in even stands, while its stoloniferous growth habit leaves a level base for haymaking operations. It is easy to make into hay and can be handled with standard techniques.

The crop should be grazed when the weather is not suitable for haymaking; it may be slashed level before setting aside for hay and a top-dressing of nitrogenous fertilizer applied. Rhodes grass recovers well from fire, so old fields with a lot of dry herbage and weeds can be burnt at the onset of the rains.

Bermuda grass, African star grass, giant star grass

Cynodon dactylon, C. nlemfuënsis and C. aethiopicus

Until the revision of the genus in 1970, the two species commonly used in agriculture were referred to as C. dactylon and C. plectostachyus, so older references in the literature are misleading. C. dactylon is the strongly rhizomatous plant common in the subtropics and warm temperate areas; it is now recognized that it rarely occurs in the tropics. C. nlemfuënsis and C. aethiopicus - both stoloniferous perennials without rhizomes - are the common African pasture types, with the former being by far the most widespread. Earlier references to C. plectostachyus mainly refer to C. aethiopicus (see Bogdan, 1977), and also C. dactylon was formerly used for small- and medium-sized types from Africa.

C. dactylon is widely used in the warmer parts of the USA and is an excellent hay grass. Coastal Bermuda is one well-known cultivar, and more have been developed in the USA. Because of its rhizomatous habit, C. dactylon is a serious weed in arable areas. The African species are widespread in the sub-humid to semi-arid regions but, since they are plants of the good soils, few large areas of Cynodon grassland remain in Africa as those areas have mostly been developed for cropping (e.g., the foot slopes of Mount Kenya). The African species have no rhizomes so are suitable for pastures.

They tolerate a wide range of soils and will stand some waterlogging; C. dactylon will survive long periods of immersion. For good yield and persistence, especially by African types, soil fertility must be maintained. They are drought-tolerant but can thrive in high rainfalls with a range of 600 - 1 750 mm/year. C. dactylon survives frost because of its rhizomes. It has good salinity tolerance.

Star grass is a poor seeder, but easily established by splits or sods. Plant at 1 m ´ 1 m into moist soil when rain is expected.

Star grass makes excellent hay and is easy to cure.

Once established, star grass resists weed invasion well and is persistent; it does, however, require regular top-dressing with nitrogenous fertilizer and, for hay, with complete fertilizer. It should be grazed during weather unsuited to haymaking.


Dactylis glomerata

A tufted, long-lived, deep-rooted perennial which tends to form large tussocks. It is native to Europe, North Africa and temperate Asia, but has been introduced to temperate areas throughout the world. It is a grass for long-term leys, and should be used for fields meant to last over four years. It combines well with legumes since it is slow to establish but, later, must be carefully managed so that it does not shade them out. In the USA, it is the preferred companion grass for white or ladino clover.

It is well adapted to cool temperate conditions, being more cold tolerant than ryegrass but less so than timothy (Phleum pratense); it stands up well to high temperatures and drought. Cocksfoot prefers loams and clays, but will survive and produce on light soils; it is less fertility-demanding than ryegrass. As would be expected with a plant with so wide a distribution, it has a wide range of ecotypes with widely differing climatic adaptations. Mediterranean ecotypes can exhibit dormancy during the long, dry, hot summers. In the tropics, cocksfoot can be grown successfully at altitudes over 2 250 m.

It is drilled or broadcast. When sown in pure stand, 5 to 10 kg/ha of seed should be used.

Cocksfoot is a major hay plant in North America, and standard techniques apply.

In mixtures with clovers and grown for hay or silage, it is impossible to maintain the legume if the crop is only mown. Hard grazing in spring to encourage legume growth is essential, before allowing the crop to grow up for mowing.

Weeping lovegrass

Eragrostis curvula

A tufted perennial with narrow leaves with inrolled margins, originating in eastern Africa. It is the most important hay grass in South Africa, and is grown in the USA and used for winter pasture in Florida. Palatability varies between cultivars, but it is generally well accepted when young.

It is a warm-season plant which withstands high temperatures and tolerates light frost. It can be grown with rainfalls from as low as 500 mm/yr up to 1 000 mm/yr and is drought tolerant. It prefers light soils but will thrive on most if well-drained. It is very tolerant of salinity and grows on soils of pH up to 8.5. It survives on poor soils, but for high production it requires fertilizer and extra nitrogen.

A firm, well worked seedbed is desirable. Seed should not be covered by more than 0.5 - 1 cm. E. curvula is easy to establish and is often sown under a nurse crop of teff in South Africa. Seed rates of the crop and nurse crop vary according to rainfall and sowing method. South African recommendations are: for areas with 650 mm/yr rainfall, 2 to 4 kg/ha E. curvula + 5 kg/ha teff; for 900 mm rainfall, 5 kg/ha E. curvula + 8 to 10 kg/ha teff; for low rainfall, broadcast, 2 to 4 kg/ha E. curvula + 4 to 6 kg/ha teff; for low rainfall, row planted, 2 kg/ha E. curvula + 5 kg/ha teff; for high rainfall, broadcast, 6 to 8 kg/ha E. curvula + 8 to 10 kg/ha teff; and for high rainfall, row planted, 3 kg/ha E. curvula + 6 kg/ha teff.

It is sometimes grown in mixture with lucerne. E. curvula seeds heavily and may be harvested with a header when a third of the seeds have turned brown. The threshed product is caryopses, not florets.. High seed yields are obtained from row-planted crops. It is an obligate apomict.

It is easy to dry, with its fine leaves, and makes good hay if cut before it becomes too coarse.


Eragrostis tef

An annual grown widely as a cereal in upland Ethiopia at altitudes of 1 700 - 2 800 m, where it is the preferred grain. It has been tried in many tropical and subtropical countries for hay, since it establishes and grows rapidly and can produce a hay crop in 9 to 12 weeks from sowing, but has only become popular in southern Africa. It can be grown in dry areas because of its short lifespan, which allows it to escape droughts. The only country outside Ethiopia where teff has become an important crop is South Africa, where it is a major hay species, but it is also used as pasture in the southern coastal regions of the Cape. Teff was introduced to South Africa in 1886 and its hay proved very palatable to race horses, so a demand grew. It a rainfed crop. The traditional sowing date in South Africa is November, but trials at Cedara indicate that earlier (September/October) sowing may produce higher herbage yields, as early sowings gave 8 to 9 t/ha DM whereas November sowing yields between 3 and 4 t/ha. It is grown in all but the driest parts of South Africa and is probably the second most widely used hay after Eragrostis curvula; it is grown in pure stands (and as a nurse crop for E. curvula). In the dry Karoo, hay is grown on the bottom lands. Area statistics are not available, but about 1 000 t of teff seed are sold annually through seed companies; this does not include farm-to-farm sales. Teff hay is primarily a horse feed, but is used more and more for dairy cattle and wild animals due to its high palatability and digestibility. All wild game that the Natal Parks Board captures for relocation or sale are fed teff hay while held in captivity.

Teff is a summer crop that is tolerant of most soil types and a wide range of rainfall conditions, provided that it rains during its short growing season. Fertilizer levels in Natal are 10 ppm P and 140 ppm K.

For hay, seed rate recommendations vary considerably: between 5 and 15 kg/ha sown broadcast on a well-prepared, firm seed-bed. The general South African recommendation is that the seedbed should be rolled before and after sowing. Germination and growth are rapid; for hay the crop is not thinned. Teff is a cereal, seed production is therefore easy and yields are high. A seed crop, unlike a hay crop, should be thinned and weeded; the seedlings are tiny, so this must be done with care. The seed threshes without adhering glumes, so cleaning presents no difficulties. It is said to be a self-pollinating apomict.

Teff is mown at flowering and is easy to handle, with thin leaves and stems. The crop should be cut at the flowering stage but before seed set. It is important to mow before it begins to lodge, which is usually soon after flowering begins, depending on weather conditions. Lodged teff is difficult to mow and leads to wastage. Weather permitting, teff can be mown, dried and baled the same day in South Africa. If the stand is thick it may be necessary to turn the cut material once for better drying.

Teff is a short-term crop. In South Africa, early-sown teff is cut several times, while late-sown crops are cut only twice. Crops late-sown after a well-manured previous crop are usually given no fertilizer. However, where several cuts are taken, nitrogen, and probably potash, are required, since large amounts of potash are transferred when the cut material is removed from the field. Excessive nitrogen application only promotes lodging, so any added production due to the extra fertilizer is lost through wastage during mowing.

Tall fescue

Festuca arundinacea

A tall, tussock-forming, long-lived perennial which forms a sward if grazed. It occurs naturally in Europe, North Africa and temperate Asia, and has been widely introduced in other temperate regions. It is a good companion for legumes and can make high quality hay. Some strains have symbiotic fungi which produce mycotoxins.

It has a wide range of ecotypes adapted to a wide variety of soils. It is especially valuable for low-lying land with seasonal waterlogging, and in the Mediterranean area it occurs naturally under such conditions, often with strawberry clover (Trifolium fragiferum). At the same time, tall fescue is deep-rooted and drought resistant, and can survive in regions with under 400 mm annual rainfall, and thrive on dry, calcareous soils.

It is slow to start and requires a clean seedbed, since the seedlings do not compete well with weeds. Careful seedbed preparation, in advance of sowing, with harrowing to destroy the first growth of weeds, may help. Drill at very shallow depth, or broadcast and cover lightly, at 10 to 25 kg/ha for pure stands. A full stand is important to reduce the occurrence of coarse tussocks. It is relatively easy to establish legumes with tall fescue because of its slow initial growth; once established, however, it is a very aggressive grass and careful grazing and mowing management will be necessary if the legumes are to survive.

In terms of haymaking and sward maintenance and management, standard techniques apply.

Italian ryegrass

Lolium multiflorum

A vigorous annual or biennial from southern and western Europe, North Africa and southwest Asia, which is now cultivated widely in temperate and subtropical regions. This is a long-domesticated grass, very widely used for hay. It is used for pasture, hay and silage for up to two year's duration. It combines well, at light seed rates, with Egyptian clover (berseem) and gives early bulk at a time when the clover is barely growing because of low temperatures. Westerwolds ryegrass, a fast growing, strictly annual form, useful for hay, should be sown early in the year and, as it flowers profusely in the seeding year, grazing and mowing should be arranged to keep the herbage leafy.

It suits mild, humid climates and well-drained fertile soils, and grows well under irrigation. It does not withstand very harsh winters or poor soils. It grows well in subtropical winters, often producing green feed when traditional crops are dormant.

Italian ryegrass is easy to establish. It should be drilled or broadcast into a well-prepared seed-bed at 10 to 15 kg/ha in pure stand. In mixture with red clover (Trifolium pratense) 5 kg/ha of ryegrass is used. It is used to give bulk and ground cover in mixtures of longer-living grasses, but then must be used at very low seed rates or its vigorous early growth will suppress the more valuable, longer-lived grasses and legumes. The seed is shallowly drilled into a firm seedbed in the usual way. Seed is readily available in world trade. Supply is, however, a problem in some subtropical countries, where it would combine well with Egyptian clover to help cover the winter gap.

This is a major hay grass and standard techniques apply.

The grass is usually grazed at the start of the season, then fertilized and laid up for hay to be ready at the season of prime haymaking weather. Top-dressing rates should aim at the maximum crop which will not lodge.

Perennial ryegrass

Lolium perenne

A loose to densely-tufted perennial which forms a dense turf when grazed, It originates in the temperate zones of Europe, North Africa and Asia. It is the major pasture and hay grass of western Europe, and is very important in New Zealand. Hybrids with L. multiflorum are also cultivated; they are longer-lived and are used to increase yield in the first two seasons of a ley's duration; they have good winter production in mild areas.

Perennial ryegrass is a crop for mild, humid-temperate climates and rich soils; there are also Mediterranean, summer-dormant ecotypes. It is not suitable for poor soils or very warm summers. A wide range of cultivars and strains are available; hay types are taller and more erect than pasture types. It can be grown at high altitudes in the tropics, and has been very successful, such as in Kenya, if fertility is maintained at a high enough level. It is not suited to dry conditions or infertile soils. Perennial ryegrass and white clover is a classic mixture for grazing under humid temperate conditions; it is not, however suited to poor soils and hot summers on acid soils under subtropical conditions. It can be grown in the subtropics and high-altitude tropics, but only if well fertilized. Attempts in development projects to use it for re-seeding on poor soils (usually along with white clover), outside its zone of main use, however, have usually failed after a season or so.

Recommendations for seed rate and establishment vary very widely. Ten to twelve kg in a mixture with clovers was a common recommendation, but some European recommendations now go up to 30 kg, although this must give problems with legume installation unless early management is very carefully done. In the high altitude tropics, very low seed rates have to be used if legume establishment in mixtures is to be attained. Morrison (1966), working in Kenya, stated

"When clover was sown in the conventional British and New Zealand mixtures in which the companion grass is sown at 15-25 lb./acre, clover frequently failed to persist beyond the establishment year... The choice of companion grass is important. Lolium perenne, which establishes very rapidly, has proved to be an unsatisfactory companion grass for legumes at high altitudes except when sown at less than 1 lb./acre. Slower establishing grasses, such as Festuca arundinacea and Dactylis glomerata, have proved to be satisfactory companion grasses for subterranean and Louisiana white clover."

Perennial ryegrass is very frequently mixed with white clover at 2 kg/ha, and, for hay, red clover is frequently included. Seed of perennial ryegrass is widely available commercially.

For haymaking, standard techniques apply.

Establishing stands should be lightly grazed to encourage tillering, suppress weeds and encourage legume development. Grazing (or harvesting as silage) should be so timed that the crop reaches the correct stage for haymaking at a season when the weather should be suitable for curing. Regular applications of maintenance fertilizer and nitrogen should be applied, with the nitrogen dose calculated to give a heavy, but not lodged, crop. Grazing too early in spring and poaching in winter are to be avoided; under cool humid conditions, an early application of nitrogenous fertilizer in early spring will produce valuable grazing several weeks ahead of the natural flush.

Coloured Guineagrass or kleingrass

Panicum coloratum

A tufted, erect or spreading perennial, 50 - 150 cm in height, from tropical and subtropical Africa. It is hardy, easy to establish and well suited to seasonally waterlogged lands which are difficult for arable, but it has not yet been much used commercially. Cv Solai - selected in Kenya - was at one time commercially available. Makarikari grass (Panicum coloratum var. makarikariensis) is a stoloniferous plant with bluish leaves; it has been widely used for soil conservation in eastern Africa, as well as as a pasture plant. Named cultivars include Bambatsi, Bushman mine and Pollock.

It is a warm-season plant which will grow on a wide range of soils, including black clays. It tolerates waterlogging well and is moderately resistant to salinity. In eastern Africa, it is found at altitudes between 1 100 and 2 000 m in areas with over 500 mm/yr rainfall.

The seed of P. coloratum often exhibits dormancy when freshly harvested and may have to be scarified or stored for some time before sowing. Seedling vigour is good and seed may be covered to a depth of 1 - 1.5 cm. A reasonable seed rate is 0.5 to 1 kg/ha of PGS.

It is a good hay plant and easy to cure, but should not be allowed to become too mature before mowing, as some cultivars rapidly become woody.

The crop should be grazed until such time as it is set aside for hay, with fertilizer top dressing as appropriate.


Panicum maximum

A large, very variable, tufted perennial of African origin, up to 4.5 m in height. Stoloniferous types are known. It is now widely introduced to tropical countries. P. maximum var. trichoglume - slender Guineagrass or green panic - is a smaller variety which is widely cultivated, especially in tropical Australia. The main areas of Guineagrass cultivation are in Latin America. It is an excellent grazing grass but, for haymaking, its tufted habit is not ideal and care must be taken in establishing and maintaining a full stand, otherwise hay handling on a tufty base is problematical.

It is a plant of frost-free, tropical conditions, although it will recover from light frosts. Guineagrass will tolerate a wide range of well-drained soils, but is only really productive under conditions of moderate to high fertility. Its rainfall requirements vary widely according to ecotype. It occurs in the wild in the semi-arid tropics in areas with 500 - 600 mm rainfall, but the larger cultivated types generally require 800 - 1 750 mm to do well. It has little tolerance of salinity.

Freshly harvested seed may exhibit dormancy and should be stored for some time before use. For hay, it should be close-drilled or broadcast at 1 kg/ha PGS. It combines well with some twining legumes, including centro (Centrosema pubescens) and this persists well in grazed stands, but would be less likely to do so where the crop is only mown for hay. The larger types can be easily established from splits when widely-spaced plants are acceptable for grazing or cut-and-carry, but this does not produce a suitable surface for haymaking. Seedling growth and vigour are only moderate, so it is usually necessary to let the crop become well established before heavy grazing; once established, it is long-lived and persistent. Seed of some Australian cultivars, especially of slender Guinea, is available in the international market. It seeds freely, but flowering and ripening are spread over a long period, seed sheds easily and harvest is difficult. Tying the heads into sheaves, without cutting, when many seeds appear to be ripening, cutting a week or two later, transporting carefully to a drying area, and then threshing, is a useful method where labour is abundant.

For hay, it must be mown before becoming too stemmy; the smaller types, like var. trichoglume and cv Makueni, are probably easier to handle.


Paspalum dilatatum

A leafy perennial, originating in the South American subtropics, with short rhizomes, and which forms spreading clumps with flower stems 50 - 150 cm tall. It is now widely introduced to tropical countries and others with mild winters and warm summers. It is cultivated and naturalized in many countries, including Australia and the USA. Dallisgrass is very persistent but combines well with white clover in subtropical conditions if hard grazed. Its palatability is moderate and declines seriously when its flowers are infected by ergot (sclerotia of Claviceps paspali).

It grows best on heavy, fertile, moist soils and requires high temperatures for growth, but survives frost and grows away from the rootstock when temperatures improve. It does best with over 1 000 mm/yr rain. Once established it can withstand long periods of drought because of its strong root-stock.

It is usually broadcast or close-drilled at 10 to 15 kg/ha. Clover can be sod-seeded into it, in subtropical areas, to give cool-season production when the grass is dormant in autumn.

Dallisgrass flowers are very prone to attack by ergot (Claviceps spp.) so where infestation is likely it should be mown for hay before heading, to reduce the risk of toxicity.

It should be heavily grazed to keep down flower-heads during the growing period, except when laid up for hay.

Reed canarygrass

Phalaris arundinacea

A robust, rhizomatous perennial up to 2 m tall, which spreads vigorously. It is widespread on moist sites in Europe, northern Asia, North America and South Africa, is a component of hay meadows in the Ethiopian Highlands, and is widely introduced into other temperate areas. It is a coarse grass that requires careful management to keep it at a palatable stage, but it can be grown on seasonally waterlogged or flooded land unsuited to other crops.

It grows best on moist, sandy soils rich in organic matter, but will thrive on fertile loams and clays, so long as moisture is adequate. It grows in a wide range of temperate to subtropical conditions, but is very cold-tolerant and is used in Canada and the Pacific Northwest. It remains green until after really hard frost.

It requires a clean, well prepared seedbed and is best spring sown, drilled at 4 to 7 kg/ha.

For hay, its coarse herbage is not easy to dry, and management should take this into account. Early growth is usually best grazed to encourage leafy re-growth; hay should be made once the season has warmed up sufficiently. It should be mown just as it comes into bloom.


Phleum pratense

A tufted perennial originating in Europe and temperate Asia. It has been introduced to most temperate areas. Timothy is better suited to cutting than to intensive grazing, as its high palatability and rather slow re-growth puts it at a disadvantage in grazed mixtures. It is particularly important in Scandinavia and Canada, and is the main hay grass of northern USA, where it is often mixed with red clover.

A grass of cool to cold, temperate climates, it prefers deep, moist soils and tolerates wet conditions. It is useful under wet conditions and on heavy-textured or peaty soils. It is very cold tolerant and often remains green throughout winter.

It is usually sown under a spring cereal, at 5 to 10 kg/ha in mixture with clover.

Timothy is a major hay grass, but quickly becomes stemmy and should be cut before, or just at, ear emergence to assure high quality fodder. Early cutting encourages re-growth and stimulates the clover in mixtures.

The undersown crop is grazed lightly in autumn and then cut annually for hay, with its aftermath grazed. Top dressing of fertilizer is required for maintenance each spring. The proportions of N, P and K will depend on the emphasis put on maintaining the clover component.

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