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Helping Make America Great Again One Bale at a Time

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Hi-Protein Grass Types

(Article by Rachel Steffan)
Grass hay cut at a mature stage may lose more than half of its protein content.
Crude protein content is an important consideration when choosing grass varieties for hay or pasture. While plant maturity and growing conditions have a huge impact on the amount of protein found in grass at any given time, some species average higher levels than others when tested for crude protein under comparable conditions.

• Alfalfa
Alfalfa is widely grown throughout the world as forage for cattle, and is most often harvested as hay, but can also be made into silage, grazed, or fed as greenchop. Alfalfa has the highest feeding value of all common hay crops. It is used less frequently as pasture. When grown on soils where it is well-adapted, alfalfa is often the highest-yielding forage plant, but its primary benefit is the combination of high yield per hectare and high nutritional quality.

• Orchardgrass
Orchardgrass is a good choice for mixed grass and legume fields because it matures earlier in the spring than some other common field grasses such as timothy, meaning that it is ready for harvest at roughly the same time as legume forages. It is moderately hardy in winter and drought conditions, and very productive when properly managed.

• Bermudagrass
Bermudagrass is a warm-season grass originally imported from southeast Africa. It averages 12.4 percent crude protein as hay. Unlike orchardgrass, bermudagrass is most productive during the hot summer months. It forms a deep sod of roots and rhizomes that helps it survive dry periods, but it does not tolerate the cold winters of northern climates. Bermudagrass prefers well-drained soil and needs nitrogen fertilization for the best production.

• Ryegrass
Ryegrass is a cool-season grass grown worldwide for forage and hay production. It is highly productive when grown under optimum conditions, but less tolerant of subpar conditions than many other grasses. With proper management, ryegrass yields a high nutrient value, including an average crude protein level of 11.8 percent. Ryegrass tends to die out over time and require seeding, making it costlier to maintain than more persistent species.

• Sudangrass
Sudangrass averages 11.6 percent crude protein. It must be reseeded each year for continued production. Sudangrass is heat- and drought-tolerant, though it may go dormant in extreme drought situations. There is a slight danger of toxicity due to prussic acid concentration in sudangrass, but this is normally only a problem in sorghum-sudan hybrids. Sudangrass is highly productive and may produce up to five hay cuttings in a single season.

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