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Teff grass useful for emergency feed

Published on -6/22/2013, 1:45 PM

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By CHRISTOPHER PETTY and JOSH COLTRAIN

Special to The Hays Daily News

Teff (Erogrostis tef), also known as Lovegrass, a warm-season annual native to Ethiopia, is an excellent emergency forage crop feed source for livestock when established properly.

Cattle and horses readily eat teff hay. Teff exhibits drought tolerance, good fertilizer response and can be grown on marginal soils. It is a highly palatable, fine-stemmed grass than can be planted any time after the threat of frost. It can work as an emergency feed source when planted after wheat.

Teff harvest can take place as soon as 45 days after seeding and should be done prior to maturation for best quality. Teff is best grown for hay. Grazing is not suggested as it can cause uprooting of plants. Teff is not known to cause prussic acid or nitrate poisoning.

Seedbed prep: Teff generally requires a very shallow seeding depth of around quarter-inch or less. Good seed to soil contact is important. A firm seedbed is suggested. Due to the extremely small size of teff seed, it can be difficult to meter properly through a drill. Results in Northwest Kansas were satisfactory when teff was drop seeded followed by a pass with a harrow to lightly bury the seed into worked soil.

Planting date: Teff is a cold-intolerant plant, native to Africa. Do not plant teff prior to the frost-free date in your area. For good results, it should not be planted during the fall to avoid cold nighttime temperatures.

Rate: Teff seeds are very small, with 1 pound containing more than a million seeds. Approximately 8 pounds per acre (give or take a pound) seems to work well in northwest Kansas. Slightly increase seeding rates for coated seed. Coating increases size to allow for better flow through seeding equipment.

Seed selection: Teff seed comes in forage production and seed production varieties. Forage varieties have higher tonnage yields and feed quality.

Insects and disease: Insect and disease pressure is minimal.

Fertilization: Teff responds well to nitrogen fertilization similarly to fescue. Soil test prior to seeding in order to determine available nutrients. When planted early into good moisture conditions. Two cuttings can be expected. Fertilizing again with nitrogen after cutting can have positive result. Thirty to 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre/per cutting is recommended.

Weed control: Applications of grass herbicides have been proven successful in teff crops. Contact your local extension office or chemical supplier for specific products. Broadleaf herbicides should not be used until Teff plant has five to seven leaves.

Yield: Results from northwest Kansas in 2008 to 2012 ran from a low of approximately 1,300 pounds per acre, when planted after wheat, to a high of 3,500 pounds per acre when planted in May and managed for maximum production.

Quality can vary greatly depending on harvest maturity. Harvesting after seed heading can greatly reduce quality. Mature or freeze-damaged teff has a protein level similar to straw or mature prairie hay. For best results, harvest in 45 to 55 days, prior to heading. Well-managed teff crops can have protein content in the 9 percent to 15 percent range.

Christopher Petty is Graham County Extension agent, and Josh Coltrain is Wildcat District Extension agent.

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