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Teff and sorghum being tested in pastures

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 08/30/2013 1:01 PM

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MORRIS, Minn. — Paddocks in the West Central Research and Outreach Center's pastures are looking a bit different this summer.

Annuals like teff and BMR sorghum-sudangrass are growing while researchers study the warm season pasture grouping.

The research was highlighted last week during an Organic Dairy Day.

WCROC has a diverse grazing system, said the center's dairy scientist Brad Heins. It includes cool season grasses like red and white clover, meadow brome grass, chicory, alfalfa and rye. The cooler-season grasses start to slow down later in summer.

Heins, when he first arrived at the center, noticed that cows were taken off pastures in August because cool-season grasses slowed in summer heat and lack of rain.

Teff and BMR sorghum-sudangrass are a bridge for the grazing dairy herd.

Teff seeds are very small, said University of Minnesota Extension educator Jim Paulson. A pound of alfalfa will have 225,000 to 230,000 seeds, and a pound of teff has more than a million seeds per pound.

"When you have a small seed, whether it's teff grass or a perennial rye, we still need a smooth, firm seedbed," Paulson said.

Sorghum-sudangrass should be planted in warmer soils. It was planted in mid-May this year. Soils should be around 60 degrees, Paulson said.

"It likes warm conditions," he said. "And it tolerates dry conditions even more."

The sorghum-sudangrass had grown tall before cows entered the paddock, Heins said.

Hiens pointed to another pasture where forage oats and turnips will be planted. Cows will graze on the mixture until snow is too deep, he said.

"I like to shoot for Thanksgiving," he said. "That will be extending our season."

The facility has 110 acres of pasture.

The analysis for teff showed it had good protein. It takes nitrogen to get the protein levels up.

Cows first consumed weeds before teff, Heins said.

Oregon organic dairy farmer Jon Bansen talked about cows' acclimation to feeds. He said that calves get a sense of the feeds the cows would eat before the calves are born. Bansen calls it gestational imprinting.

Heins said he found something similar in the teff pastures. The herd is made up of older cows that were unfamiliar with teff and were more accustomed to grazing on cool-season grasses.

The milking parlor stop included graduate student Lucas Sjostrom and Extension educator Roger Moon. They discussed iscuss walk-through fly traps and the heat detection systems they are researching.

The cows wear a collar with a radio-frequency device. The system tracks a cow's activities, Sjostrom said.

The WCROC is researching two fly traps. The Bruce trap, which farmers can build themselves, is covered with screens that capture flies as the cows walk through. The other system, the Cow Vac, needs electricity to operate and blows air across the belly and legs.

The aim is to get rid of horn flies, which can sharply decrease milk production.

It was apparent the systems work. Sjostrom and Moon, with the help of other UMM students, moved the cattle through each of the walk-through fly traps. The flies were visible in the system after the cows passed, captured in the metal screens.