Most cattle producers break into a cold sweat even thinking about their bovines sneaking onto a high-value crop like peanuts. But James Fudge planted a field just for his cattle.

“Peanuts are a legume, so it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out they could stand up to clover or alfalfa,” says Fudge, of Colquitt, GA.

“I was looking for a high-quality summer forage crop I didn't have to supplement,” he continues. “Peanuts are adapted to the area and fairly drought-tolerant. They seemed like a natural.”

He adds: “The cost of perennial peanuts is a factor, and they're slow to establish.”

In May 2001, Fudge planted 27 acres of peanuts in twin rows at 135 lbs per acre. On July 18, after the crop had set pods, he turned in 36 head of 550-lb weaned Angus and Angus cross calves.

Despite a severe drought during the growing season, the calves averaged close to 2 lbs of gain a day until he took them off on Oct. 18. Last year he grazed 42 head, also with very little rain. They gained at about the same rate.

“Two pounds a day is a thriller,” Fudge declares. “My experience in July, August and September on bermuda and bahia is that cattle gain a half pound a day. Even when I supplement with grain I haven't been getting over a pound a day.”

Bob Myer, animal scientist at the North Florida Research and Education Center, Marianna, reports similar results. He grazed early weaned 300- to 500-lb calves on 11 acres of peanuts. The station also was dry, so Myer reduced the number of calves from 25 the first 40 days to 14 for the last part of the trial.

Myer was concerned about bloat, but says, “We adjusted the calves onto the forage for the first few days. We didn't have any problems.”

The peanut field at Marianna has regenerated seven years. It was hayed for two years before the grazing trial began.

“Haying works well, but you have to use a crimper-type cutter to squeeze the moisture out,” comments Dan Gorbet, a researcher at the station. “It takes four or five days of curing weather and that's a hazard.”

However, Gorbet adds, “Putting up high-moisture haylage works with perennial peanuts. There's no reason it wouldn't work with annual peanuts, and they're pretty close to alfalfa in quality.”

Fudge and Myer both divided the peanut fields into four paddocks. Fudge's calves grazed each paddock for seven to 10 days.

“This is more controlled grazing than intensive grazing,” he says. “That allows pod set for the next year.”

Fudge says the cost ran about 50¢/lb of gain the first year, too high to suit him. But when he planted, the peanut quota program was still in effect and seed costs ran $100 an acre. He expects that to drop now that the quota program is over. Plus, he has already gotten two years of grazing off of one planting and expects at least one more year.

He emphasizes that growing conventional peanuts for forage is still a trial-and-error process.

“I made every mistake I could make,” he says. “Since nobody had tried this before, there was no one to ask.”

In 2001, his mistakes tended toward critter management. “I didn't feed them hay for a month and they had diarrhea real bad. Last year I fed hay and they had some looseness, but not too bad.”

Weed control was his biggest challenge last year. He disked the ground once in March to stimulate a new stand. But that brought a lot of peanuts to the surface and they didn't germinate. It also brought weeds to the surface but didn't kill them.

“This March I'm going to reverse what I did last year. I'll disk it vigorously, probably three times until I get 4-6” of loose soil. I may chisel it, too. I'm going to try different cultural practices to see what works best.”

He has also found that overseeding oats works wonders for weed control and provides winter grazing for his cattle. In fall 2001, he no-tilled oats in one paddock after he took the cattle off in mid-October. Even with no fertilizer, the 5 acres of oats provided a month of grazing for 18 head.