If you can’t beat it, plan for it. The “it” in this case is drought. Periods of extended dry weather have become both more routine and intense in recent years. Nearly all regions have been affected.
Given the higher likelihood that cool-season and even some perennial warm-season forages will at best shut down during dry periods, more and more grazing gurus are suggesting drought mitigation strategies be a part of the year’s standard grazing plan.
In other words, don’t react to it. Plan for it.
It’s often the case that warm-season annuals anchor a drought mitigation plan, though stockpiling and warm-season perennials are also possible players.
When warm-season annuals are discussed, the conversation usually starts with sorghum-sudangrass or sudangrass. Time tested, these grasses offer great productivity and a good selection of varieties.
But there is another alternative that is gaining in popularity — pearl millet.
“Pearl millet can be grazed or harvested as hay or silage, and it’s generally more productive in drought conditions than sorghum-sudangrass hybrids,” says Jeremy Kichler, University of Georgia (UGA) extension agent in Colquitt County.
In a recent UGA forage team website post, Kichler also cites another advantage for pearl millet over the sorghum species — it doesn’t accumulate prussic acid during periods of stress or at immature growth stages.
Kichler offers the following recommended production practices for livestock producers who want to include pearl millet as a component of their drought mitigation plan:
• Evaluate variety options and performance.
• Begin planting when the 2-inch soil temperature reaches 65°F.
• If broadcasting seed, use 25 to 30 pounds of pure live seed (PLS) per acre. For drills, seed 10 to 15 pounds PLS per acre planted at 1 to 1-1/2 inches deep.
• Pearl millet is very responsive to nitrogen, but like sorghums can accumulate nitrates under certain growing conditions or if too much nitrogen fertilizer or manure is applied.
• Graze pearl millet when plants reach 20 to 24 inches tall, leaving a 9- to 12-inch stubble height for regrowth/tillering potential.
• For hay, cut when plants are 2 to 3 feet tall to ensure high-quality forage. Condition the forage to speed drying.
• When cut before the boot stage, total digestible nutrients (TDN) can be 52 to 58 percent while crude protein (CP) will range from 8 to 11 percent.
Pearl millet may not be the only answer to pull you through a midsummer forage slump or drought, but it’s an option worthy of consideration as a component of the annual grazing plan.