Nutritive Value Response of Native Warm-Season Forage Grasses to Harvest Intervals and Durations in Mixed Stands

Plants (Basel). 2014 May 16;3(2):266-83. doi: 10.3390/plants3020266.


Interest in management of native warm-season grasses for multiple uses is growing in southeastern USA. Forage quality response of early-succession mixed stands of big bluestem (BB, Andropogon gerardii), indiangrass (IG, Sorghastrum nutans), and little bluestem (SG, Schizachyrium scoparium) to harvest intervals (30-, 40-, 60-, 90 or 120-d) and durations (one or two years) were assessed in crop-field buffers. Over three years, phased harvestings were initiated in May, on sets of randomized plots, ≥90 cm apart, in five replications (blocks) to produce one-, two-, and three-year-old stands, by the third year. Whole-plot regrowths were machine-harvested after collecting species (IG and LB) sample tillers for leafiness estimates. Species-specific leaf area (SLA) and leaf-to-stem ratio (LSR) were greater for early-season harvests and shorter intervals. In a similar pattern, whole-plot crude protein concentrations were greatest for the 30-d (74 g·kg(-1) DM) and the least (40 g·kg(-1) DM) for the 120-d interval. Corresponding neutral detergent fiber (NDF) values were the lowest (620 g·kg(-1) DM) and highest (710 g·kg(-1) DM), respectively. In vitro dry matter and NDF digestibility were greater for early-season harvests at shorter intervals (63 and 720 g·kg(-1) DM). With strategic harvesting, similar stands may produce quality hay for beef cattle weight gain.

Keywords: bluestem; composition; crude protein; defoliation; digestibility; forage quality; harvest interval; mixed stand; native grass; warm-season.