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Cattlemen Turning Crabgrass Into Money
Crabgrass - cursed by home owners, tolerated by farmers, and laughed at by singers and cartoonists - is starting to make a better name for itself in the South.
Crabgrass pastures are producing up to 21bs2 of daily gain for cattle, and crabgrass fields are yielding up to 6 tons per acre of hay.
If this all sounds a little incredible, consider the characteristics of crab= grass that have made it a hated weed in fields, lawns and gardens. Known by the scientific name Digitaria sanguinalis, it's a persistent volunteer plant which comes up year after year. It also survives and even thrives under drouth conditions.
These are the kind of attributes that caught the eye of agronomist R. L. Dalrymple 10 years ago at the Noble Foundation farm near Ardmore, Okl. During the 1970's, he researched this grass and developed management practices for it that have made it into a respectable forage crop that could become important in many parts of the United States.
Grazing tests over the past six years on crabgrass have averaged out to a daily gain of 1.42 lbs. for weanling and stocker steers and heifers. But there were large differences, depending on the quality of the forage. One group that was grazed on mature crabgrass gained 0.63 to 0.90 lbs. daily.
"But the point is that these calves did respectably well on grass that was completely mature at turn-on time. What other grasses can produce good gains on beef calves when the grass is at the full-seed ripe stage?" Dalrymple asks. He notes that crabgrass usually averages about 10% crude protein, and its palatability rates higher than Johnsongrass, bermudagrass, lovegrass, and bluestem. In the South, crabgrass yielded 2 to 3 tons per acre under a two cutting system. Dalrymple says that under irrigation or on good soils, 3 to 5 cuttings can be taken with yields going up to 6 tons per acre. He thinks that crabgrass could be an important forage crop wherever rainfall averages 30 in. or more annually. It responds well to irrigation and heavy rainfall. It also responds well to nitrogen fertilizer at 601bs, to the acre or higher.
"There are tremendous variations in strains of crabgrass," says Dalrymple, who has selected 18 different strains to test and compare. Yields vary from 3 tons to 51/2 tons per acre, plant height from 41/2 to 131/2 in. and plant width from 7 to 11 in. Crabgrass is not the only "weed" that Dalrymple hopes to develop into a profitable forage crop. He is working with Japanese brome, fescue grass, cheat grass, prairie cupgrass, and kochia. (FARM SHOW recently reported on kochia as a pasture grass.)
For more information on crabgrass as a forage, contact: FARM SHOW Followup; R. L. Dalrymple, Noble Foundation, Rt. 1, Ardmore, Okl. 73401 (ph 405 223-5810).

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1980 - Volume #4, Issue #5