Alternative Forages for Pastures

Teff Grass – Bruce Anderson, UNL Extension Forage Specialist, shares his views on how

teff should be used and some of its challenges.

Teff is a summer annual forage grass that has potential use for our region. Compared to the

millets, sorghums, and sudangrasses we normally use, teff is much leafier and finer stemmed, and it

often contains more crude protein and TDN. However, it usually doesn't produce quite as much total


It makes very palatable hay and is well accepted by horses, llamas, alpacas, and similar

livestock. Recently weaned calves also adapt to teff hay quite quickly. These may be the kind of

uses where teff is better suited than most of our other summer annual grasses. Of course, stock cows,

replacement heifers, and other cattle also like it. However, since other summer annual grasses usually

produce more tonnage and also are acceptable for these animals, they may be a better choice.

Furthermore, teff can be difficult to establish. It has a very tiny seed, much smaller than an

alfalfa seed. It must be planted very shallow, about one-eighth of an inch deep, or seedlings will not

emerge. Many producers who have planted teff have had thin or uneven stands, partly because the

seed was placed too deep by their drills. Extra firm seedbeds may be needed when a drill is used;

broadcasting seed and rolling or irrigating afterwards might work better.

Seedlings also need a week or so of moist soil to become established well enough to survive.

This shouldn't be a problem with irrigation, but dryland growers have had some failures, especially

when planting after wheat.

Teff has much potential when used with the right livestock. But know also that it has some

risks and challenges.

Bermudagrass not a good choice – Bermudagrass benefits may sound attractive to some

Nebraska producers, but the grass may not offer long-term success. Advertisements are promoting

certain bermudagrass varieties as producing more forage than other grasses and surviving a wide

variety of climates and soils. Advertisements also boast high yield potential, close grazing and

drought tolerance. Bermudagrass also is used for hay because of its tolerance to frequent hay harvest.


However, bermudagrass is probably a poor choice for most producers. To achieve high yields,

bermudagrass takes a lot of fertilizer. It's not unusual to apply 200 to 300 pounds of actual nitrogen

per acre. Other warm-season grasses rarely respond to more than 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre.

Cool-season grasses may respond to as much as 200 pounds under irrigation. Another challenge is

establishment. Most improved bermudagrass varieties must be established using sprigs instead of

seed. Sprigs act like the runners on strawberry plants. Planting the grass is like spreading coarsely

chopped hay and disking it into the soil. Costs can be prohibitive - at around $500 per acre.

The greatest risk with bermudagrass is winter survival. Although advertisements claim that

bermudagrass survives in Canada, and some Nebraskans have had small acreages last several years,

bermudagrass has trouble surviving during extremely cold winters. Some plants do survive and can

be nursed back to health in a year or two, but no one has increased their bermudagrass acreage. This

is because bermudagrass has not boosted production as hoped for, partly because Nebraska has a

much shorter growing season than in Oklahoma and Texas where bermudagrass thrives. Winter

injury often has required waiting for stands to mend, reducing usefulness.

Bermudagrass works best where temperatures are expected to be 80 degrees or higher for at

least five months with moisture above 35 inches. Bermudagrass needs to be planted after all chances

of a freeze have occurred, usually in mid-May. The grass is adapted to most soils, but best used south

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