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Key traits of grazing type sorghum-sudangrass

Key traits of grazing type sorghum-sudangrass

By Andi Anderson

Sorghum-sudangrass is a versatile summer annual forage and grain crop that fills gaps in cool-season forage availability during the summer slump. It can be planted between May 1 and July 20 in Ohio and offers enough growth for beef or sheep production.

Sorghum-sudangrass is a hybrid of sudangrass and grain sorghum, combining the benefits of both. It can be harvested multiple times throughout the summer until the first frost. Typically, it is ready to graze when it reaches about 30 inches in height.

When managed properly, it provides high yields and quality forage. There are numerous varieties available, each with specific traits.

Key traits to look for when selecting sorghum-sudangrass include:

Brown Midrib (BMR):

The BMR trait reduces lignin in the plant, increasing forage digestibility. Animals can better convert this forage into meat and milk. Although BMR varieties do not grow as tall, their higher quality compensates for the lower yield. The BMR trait is visible in the midvein of the leaf.

Highly Tillering:

Varieties that produce many tillers are desirable for grazing. More tillers mean more leaf tissue, which is the most digestible and high-quality part of the plant. Plants that tiller actively after harvest regenerate quickly with lush growth, provided they receive adequate water and nutrients.

However, sorghum-sudangrass is not suitable for every operation and has some potential issues:

Prussic Acid:

Improper management can lead to prussic acid poisoning. The plant contains dhurrin, which converts to hydrogen cyanide in the rumen and can be harmful. This risk is highest in young plants or after frost. Grazing should start when the plant is about 30 inches tall, and animals should be removed before frost and kept off for 10 days after a freeze.


High nitrate levels can accumulate in the plant during drought conditions following fertilization. Nitrates are converted to nitrites in the rumen, which can cause nitrate poisoning if levels are too high. To prevent this, apply fertilizer when plant stress is minimal.

For more information on sorghum-sudangrass and its management, visit Iowa State University Extension's website or the Iowa Beef Center's resources.

By understanding these key traits and potential challenges, producers can effectively use sorghum-sudangrass to extend the grazing season and improve forage quality.

Photo Credit: gettyimages-ahavelaar

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Categories: Ohio, Livestock

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