Leroy Foerster wouldn’t trade his kleingrass – not for Coastal bermudagrass or the native range grasses usually used in his Coastal Bend area. His ranch, seeded completely to this imported bunchgrass just before he bought it 20 years ago, supports a 70-cow herd rotated year-round through 30 paddocks.
One reason the grass works well for Foerster is that he manages it carefully. In his intensive rotational grazing system, paddocks are grazed only 10% of the time and rested 90%.
“My kleingrass gets most of its growth from early spring until frost,” he says. Yet cattle graze year-round, he feeds very little hay and doesn’t bale the kleingrass. In winter when the grass is at its lowest production and quality, he feeds whole cottonseed as a protein supplement at 3 lbs/day/animal.
“I had Coastal and native grasses on a previous ranch,” he says. “I get more tons of forage per acre with kleingrass.”
In a 2009-2010 clipping study in Wilson County, about 125 miles north of Foerster’s ranch, kleingrass peaked in growth and nutritional value in May and June, and again in October and November 2009, benefiting from rains. Little or no growth occurred through winter.
Kleingrass’ seasonal production stayed slightly above Coastal’s and well ahead of native grasses’ for most of the sampling period, from March 2009 through February 2010. Its crude protein generally lagged behind Coastal’s but was well ahead of native grasses’. Seasonal TDN peaked in the middle 60% range in May and June for Coastal and kleingrass, with Coastal generally higher than kleingrass. They peaked again in the low 60% range from September through November, and all three grasses dropped below 50% TDN in winter.
“Kleingrass is an early green-up and a rapid grower with normally poor cold tolerance,” notes Joe Paschal. A Texas AgriLife Extension animal scientist based at Corpus Christi, he conducted the clipping study with Dennis Hale, Wilson County AgriLife Extension agent. In Texas, Paschal says, this African import is most productive from Austin southward.
“Kleingrass is liked in this part of the country for its good drought tolerance and fair salt tolerance,” he says. “In soils with a little salt or where the water isn’t all that great, it’s a good grass.”
In Texas Extension studies, kleingrass has grown faster than Coastal and common bermudagrass, producing more tonnage when the grasses are fertilized lightly – 20 lbs/acre nitrogen for grazing. It’s similar in protein and energy to the other introduced grasses and beats the natives, but it can’t be grazed as hard as could sod-forming grasses.
Coastal can be grazed or cut to 2-3”, the specialist says, but he recommends leaving at least 6” of kleingrass.
“We recommend grazing it before it propagates seed, taking half and leaving half. You’ll want to allow it to seed out, so you should move your cattle off at the end of the growing season. Make sure it has enough time to get a shower, put out a seed head and make a good stand for next year. It’s a perennial, but you’ll lose a few plants. You can graze it as many times as you want in a rotational system, but it’s a minimum of two months before you come back with the cattle.”
Kleingrass isn’t recommended as hay or pasture for horses, sheep or goats because it can cause photosensitization or bighead symptoms.
Two varieties of the grass are the traditional Selection 75 and the newer Verde, whose slightly larger seed makes it popular for wildlife habitat.