You might be thinking, has she lost her mind? I have indeed not lost my mind but have found the incredible value that crabgrass has to offer our farm. But first, a little history on crabgrass. In 1988, the first improved variety of forage crabgrass was released, better known as ‘Red River’ crabgrass. ‘Red River’ was developed by The Noble Research Institute. There are now a handful of varieties out on the market for producers to purchase. Improved varieties are taller, bigger types of forage crabgrass when compared to the usual native, weedy crabgrass.
We have been using an improved variety of crabgrass for at least six years now. The original use for crabgrass on our farm had to do with a sacrifice pasture where we fed hay to our horses every winter. That particular area was 2-3 acres in size and was just a weedy nightmare every spring after hay feeding. I finally decided we needed to do something about that field and planted crabgrass the following April/May. We also implemented a spray program to kill off winter weeds prior to planting crabgrass to give it the best chance with no competition. The result, a miracle! We had crabgrass and little to no weeds and the most magical part- we had something other than fescue to graze in the summer. Yes, it was a small pasture but it gave the cattle a break from the fescue which is not growing in the summer and can make them hot since it contains an endophyte (toxin).
Fast forward to 2020 and we are still using crabgrass but this time we are using it to convert land from trees to pasture. We are on year two of having crabgrass on about 8-10 acres that we are converting and it has been a life saver. We are currently working on land that had a low pH and no soil fertility to support permanent, perennial grass like fescue one day. Que the crabgrass which does not have to have ideal conditions (we have also used oats and rye as a winter annual). Our idea involved a slower process of using hay unrolling, annuals like crabgrass, and chicken litter to convert the soil and increase pH, fertility, and soil health! We have never had this much crabgrass to graze before and it has allowed us to mainly graze it vs. fescue in the summer and that has been a game changer! Not only is our fescue allowed to rest and stockpile but our cattle are doing better on the crabgrass during the summer months. Crabgrass is very palatable and is high in protein and as long as we have a little rain it regrows very quickly!
All in all, I just cannot think of a better summer annual when I need to cover ground quickly and have grazing available at the same time. I also like the fact that crabgrass does not have to have ideal conditions (obviously it does better with ideal conditions and fertilizer) and can easily be broadcasted out. You do want to make sure the soil is exposed though by using a drag or similar equipment before broadcasting for good seed to soil contact. Also, one thing I figured out is since the seeding rate is so low, you might have a hard time putting out that small of a rate and/or getting the seed to sling far so it is best to mix the seed with pelleted lime when broadcasted. This has worked so well for us!
Next time you are pondering what to do with a sacrifice area that you do not want to turn into weeds or land you are working on OR just because you need good, reliable summer grazing, consider crabgrass! We just love the stuff.