Cattle farmers learn about value of native grasses

  • Posted: Monday, July 22, 2013 11:41 p.m.

One hundred cattle producers and natural resources professionals from across North Carolina gathered in Mount Ulla to learn about using native warm season grasses for forage production last month.

The guest speakers for the morning session of the workshop were Dr. Matt Poore with N.C. Cooperative Extension and Dr. Patrick Keyser from the University of Tennessee. Keyser has been coordinator of the university’s Center for Native Grasslands Management since its formation in 2006.


Native warm season grasses were historically growing in the Piedmont of North Carolina when bison and elk roamed the unsettled land. Grasses such as big bluestem, eastern gamagrass and switchgrass grew naturally, providing forage for these large herbivores. Today, these same grasses can be cultivated to provide a valuable food source for livestock, especially cattle. Native grasses have a tremendous root system which allows them to survive droughts by tapping into moisture 6 or more feet below the surface.

This ability to grow during dry summer months allows for forage production when many other grasses are dormant. These grasses are very palatable and nutritious. Weaned steers feeding on these grasses can gain more than 2.5 pounds per day, with no impact from the entophyte fungus associated with tall fescue.

Native grasses are a good economic decision for cattle producers. They produce large quantities of forage with less fertilizer than other forage species require. Incorporating native grasses to diversify forage composition and intensifying pasture management can reduce the need to feed hay by providing viable forage over a longer portion of the year. Beef production profits can increase greatly when haying equipment is idled and cattle are allowed to harvest more of the forage as it is growing in the pasture. Wildlife species benefit from the cover provided by native grass stands.

Workshop participants visited Circle D Farms in China Grove for an on-sight demonstration. Circle D raises grass-fed beef and has incorporated native grasses in their forage program for the last three years. During the field visit, participants were able to walk pastures of big bluestem and switchgrass to see firsthand the vigor and growth patterns of these native grasses. Oscho Deal, of Circle D, discussed his on-the-ground experience with native grasses. Poore and Keyser explained the importance of pasture management and rotational grazing while John Isenhour with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission presented on establishment techniques.

For more information on incorporating native grasses into your forage production system contact Larry Hendrix, 704-637-1604 ext. 3; Thomas Cobb, 704-216-8970; or John Isenhour, 704-637-2400 ext. 101.

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