The quality of grass-fed beef is naturally dependent upon the quality of the grass used for grazing. Over the past several months, we have discussed a wide variety of forage options for ranchers, continuing with stargrass, which will be our focus for this month.
Stargrass is a member of the bermudagrass family, which grows vigorously and propagates quickly after planting as long as appropriate moisture and fertilizer are in place. In return, ranchers will find a hearty warm-season perennial grass with high crude protein content which produces live-weight gains (LWG) per acre and average daily gains (ADG) per animal approximately double those of bahiagrass. The quality of stargrass hay, when harvested every four to five weeks, is considered good to excellent, and cures rapidly during favorable weather conditions.
This grass performs well in a variety of soil types, ranging from sands to clays. Stargrass will briefly (no more than three to five days) tolerate an inch or two of standing water, but in the long term performs better in soil that is well-drained and moist.
Although stargrass will perform well in the warmer months, it should not be planted in areas that will see temperatures below 25°F, as top growth is easily killed by frost, and the plant’s digestibility falls off sharply thereafter. That being said, in areas south of the Orlando area, stargrass can continue growing into the cool season when properly fertilized.
Stargrass should not be grazed or cut too short, with an optimal stubble height of six to ten inches for best results. However, since plant height above the stubble has a major effect on forage yield and quality, plants should be grazed when plant height above the stubble ranges between 6 and 18 inches.
When planting stargrass, establish vegetatively from mature (10- to 14-week-old) stem pieces. Distribute the freshly cut plants on clean, moist, cultivated soil and cover by disking 2 to 4 inches deep. Ensure the area is completely free of all vegetation, and especially of common bermudagrass, for best results. Stargrass should be allowed a three- to four-week rest period between clippings or grazings, although that can be adjusted depending on the season and rainfall.