Livestock owners, hay producers and horse owners, it is now time to start thinking about what spring and summer annuals you are going to plant to complement or replace your pasture bare spots with after the 2016 drought. After having several conversations with producers from all areas of the livestock industry, when spring and summer annuals are mentioned, producers quickly think of Sudan grass, foxtail millet, sorghum-Sudan hybrids, brown top millet and pearl millet grasses, but there others that are very good and overlooked. Those annuals include oats, barley, triticale, forage peas (cowpeas) and lespedeza, among others. I have listed the nutrient value and benefit of planting these annual mixes.

When planting oats, barley or triticale as annual forage sources, add a forage pea in the mixture to improve feed quality (cereal-pea mixture). According to Joel Bagg, forage specialist, and Peter Johnson, cereals specialist, “Many find that oat forage is the most palatable of the cereals. Some producers avoid barley and triticale because of concerns about feeding the awns. Oats tend to outyield barley when establishment conditions are poor. Triticale seed can be more expensive and difficult to source. Spring wheat generally yields poorly when summer seeded. At the same stage of maturity, oats, barley and triticale are very similar in feed quality. Of the cereals, oats are the most readily available and usually give the best yields and returns for the dollars invested.

“Peas can be added where higher forage quality is required. Cereal-pea mixtures are popular as a spring-seeded companion crop. Peas added to cereals improve forage quality, but do not necessarily increase yields. Summer-seeded peas dislike hot, dry conditions even more than cereals. Pea growth is often quite variable, depending on moisture. Peas are more succulent and higher in moisture than oats, and can be very difficult to wilt in the fall. Pea mixtures might lie in the swath for an extended period of time with the risk of being rained on. Lush cereal-pea mixtures can be difficult to cut. Seed is more expensive. Despite these concerns, peas improve forage quality, where meeting high nutritional requirements is a priority, such as for high-producing dairy cows. If a cereal-pea mixture is sown to improve feed quality, at least 50 percent should be peas, with a total seeding rate of about 110 pounds per acre. This will typically increase crude protein by 2 to 4 percent and decrease NDF by 2 to 4.5 percent over straight cereals.”

According to the CMSU research report by Fanson Kidwaro, “Lespedeza can be used for either pasture or hay, and it can be grown with several grasses. It has been grown effectively in nearly all of the lower Midwest and throughout the South, from southern Iowa and southeast Kansas to Georgia. It’s safe for all livestock, including horses, and all wildlife.

“Lespedeza is likely to be used most effectively as a companion legume providing high quality (protein, energy and minerals) feed in cool-season grass pastures during summer months when it’s needed most. Because these grasses leave a significant gap during the summer months, lespedeza is a perfect choice, especially in low-pH soils.”

Gary Coleman is a Clemson Extension agent, livestock and forages. He can be reached at garyc@clemson.edu or call 864-223-3264.