The days of Florida ranchers grazing their cattle on solely bahia are drawing to a close. Through agriculture research such as that done by UF/IFAS, multiple cultivars have been making their way into the rancher’s toolkit. Over the next few months in this space, we will take a look at several alternatives to bahiagrass for pasture grazing stock, beginning with Rhodesgrass.
Callide rhodesgrass (Chloris gayana) originated in Africa but has been growing in Floridian soil for more than 100 years. Rhodes is a resilient grass, withstanding conditions of drought, frost, and even periodic flooding, given adequate time to rebound. Rhodes will also give better cool weather production than bahia, making it better fall and winter grazing in peninsular Florida. (Although rhodesgrass can tolerate brief periods of frost, prolonged stretches of cold weather will kill the plant mass.)
Rhodesgrass is typically cultivated from seed and reaches heights varying between two feet in the cooler season and up to six feet in the warmer months. Best practice for new plantings is to allow the grass to grow to at least 1.5 to 3 feet before allowing it to be grazed for the first time, grazing to an 8- to 10-inch stubble, and then allowing it to regrow back to at least 2 feet before grazing again.
This cultivar is also a good candidate for hay production. Given adequate seasonal rainfall, and appropriate nitrogen levels, Rhodes can give two hay crops in late spring and an additional two crops before winter begins. Two things to keep in mind regarding rhodesgrass hay: first, potassium and phosphorus fertilizers should be applied after cutting the hay crop, and second, be on the lookout for grass loopers and armyworms, two pests commonly found in improved grasses.
The secret to using rhodesgrass for grazing stock, if there is a secret, is that it cannot be grazed like bahia. A field of Rhodes will need to be rotated more frequently than a similarly sized field of bahia, to keep from overgrazing. However, this may prove beneficial, as ranchers can have several pastures of higher nutritive value stocks, supplemented with a field of heartier bahia, which will bounce back more quickly. Rotational grazing is beneficial for both the animals and the field, and these factors may serve as motivating factors to be more diligent about pasture management.
For these reasons, ranchers may wish to consider adding rhodesgrass to their pasture grazing plan.