Summer Annuals

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The past couple of days I have had to make changes to my children’s clothing, because the temperatures seem to feel like winter. Just two weeks ago, we were in sandals and short sleeves; this morning I sent my babies out in jackets…. the joy of N.C. temperatures! I assure you, though, it is spring. During this time of year, I usually get lots of calls with questions about summer annuals. I want to touch on a few of those below.

Pearl Millet, Sorghum-Sudan, and Crabgrass are the most common summer annuals planted in the eastern part of the state. Summer annuals will provide grazing from June to September. They are mostly used as a grazing source, because they are hard to harvest for hay due to the drying time required. It is recommended that summer annuals be rotationally grazed to reduce overgrazing. Summer annuals that are overgrazed will usually not yield multiple grazing periods. Animals can be allowed to graze when the summer annuals reach 18-24 inches in height and should be taken off or rotated when the forage reaches  6-8 inches in height. Summer annuals are excellent quality and will meet the needs of most animals, 60-65 percent total digestible energy (TDN) and 14-18 percent crude protein (CP).

Pearl Millet can be used for all grazing animals. It is very productive over a short season, usually from June until September. It is best planted from May 1-15, with possible plant dates of April 20 until  June 30, depending on soil moisture.

Sorghums, Sudans, and Sorghum-Sudan hybrids are tall-growing, coarse-stemmed summer annuals. They are adapted to well-drained, fertile soils and do not tolerate acidic soils. It is NOT recommended for horses grazing, because of cystitis (inflammation of a horse’s bladder, preventing them from urinating). They are very productive over a short season, usually from June until September, and are best planted from May 1–15, with possible plant dates of April 20 until June 30. If soil moisture is low, it is not recommended to plant in June unless there is a way to irrigate. One note of caution for Sorghums, Sudans, and Sorghum-Sudan hybrids is the potential for prussic acid poisoning, which usually occurs after a frost, herbicide use, or a long drought. Glycosides in the plant cause prussic acid, or hydrocyanic acid (HCN), to build up in toxic levels in the leaves of the plant. Prussic acid can cause death from suffocation, excessive salivation, rapid breathing, muscle spasms, and staggering. It is recommended that you remove the animals for 7–10 days after a killing frost or severe drought.

Crabgrass. Yes, you read that right. Crabgrass is usually considered a weed. Many farmers spray their pastures to get rid of it, because it increases the drying time for hay production. Crabgrass is actually a high-quality annual that acts like a perennial and will reseed itself. It is a competitive grass that usually grows from June to September and will yield 3-5 tons/acre. There are limited varieties of crabgrass to plant; Red River and Quick-N-Big are varieties that have shown success.

For more information, please contact Taylor Chavis, Extension Livestock Agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, at 671-3276, by e-mail at, or visit the Robeson County Center website.

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