Purdue University
Cooperative Extension Service
West Lafayette, IN 47907

Forage Selection and Seeding Guide for Indiana

K.D. Johnson, C.L. Rhykerd, and J.O. Trott
Agronomy Department, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana

Selecting the appropriate forage for hay, pasture, and/or conservation use is an important decision facing producers. There is a wide range of grasses and legumes available, and each species has its own particular plant and seed characteristics, making it more or less suitable for a producer's purpose. Thus, this decision is as critical as selecting the best variety within a forage species itself and should be given equal attention.

Many factors have to be taken into account when making a forage selection. One of the foremost is the necessity of matching forage species to the characteristics of the soil to be sown, characteristics such as drainage, fertility, and pH. County soil survey books describe the limitations of a particular soil for agricultural production, and this information is helpful, especially with land the producer has not previously farmed. Crop use and managerial capability are also among the factors that will influence the final decision.

The purpose of this publication is to simplify the process of forage selection for the producer by collecting all of the relevant information and presenting it in one place and in convenient form. The relative advantages of pure stands and mixtures are discussed, as well as the processes of selecting the right grasses, legumes, and mixtures. A particularly helpful feature is a series of tables enabling the producer to quickly and accurately assess various forage species' potential suitability and usefulness. Simple instructions for using these tables are also included.

Pure Stands or Mixtures

One of the first decisions that should be made before selecting the forage crop to be sown is whether a pure stand of one forage or a mixture of two or more forages is desired.

A pure grass stand or a pure legume stand can be advantageous over a grass-legume mixture for the following reasons:

  1. Eases the management associated with trying to keep all species in a mixture competitive.
  2. Increases the number of herbicides that can be used for weed control. Weed control options are more limited with a grass-legume mixture.
  3. Improves forage quality. A pure legume stand is usually higher in forage quality than a pure grass stand or a grass-legume mixture.

A mixture of a grass and a legume can be advantageous over a pure grass or legume stand for the following reasons:

  1. Eliminates the need for nitrogen fertilizer on pure grass stands because the legume in the mixture will provide nitrogen for grass growth.
  2. Lengthens the life of the pasture or hayland because the grass will remain after the legume stand is reduced. If desired, a legume can be reintroduced by pasture renovation (see Purdue Extension publication ID-167, "Maximizing the Value of Pasture for Horses,")
  3. Reduces the problem of legumes "heaving." This is the process in which legumes are raised from the soil surface by freeze-thaw action in the late winter and early spring, resulting in plant damage. The grasses hold the legume plants in place better than a pure legume stand can hold itself.
  4. Reduces soil erosion on steep slopes. Grasses have a more massive root system and are better for soil conservation purposes than pure legume stands.
  5. Improves livestock performance. A grass-legume mixture can improve animal gain and cattle breeding performance over a pure grass stand, especially when the grass is endophytic-fungus infected tall fescue. The mixture can also reduce animal performance problems associated with grass tetany and fescue toxicosis (see Purdue Extension publication AY-258, "Minimizing Tall Fescue Toxicity").

Generally, there is no advantage with a "shotgun mixture," a mixture of many grasses and legumes. These mixtures, usually prepackaged, do not give the producer the opportunity to match the specific grasses and legumes to the soil types on his farm. In time, two or three predominant forage species survive because of soil type, cutting management, and/or the fertilization program. This small number of forage species in the established stand is far less than the six or more forage species that were in the "shotgun mixture."

Selecting the Right Grass

Table 1.

Some of the important characteristics to be considered when selecting the "right" grass for use on the farm are shown in Table 1 (Forage grass species characteristics). Soil characteristics are listed first, in the columns on the left, because they determine whether the crop is adapted to the different soils on the farm. The characteristics listed reflect the minimum level for adequate species adaptation. Next, the appropriate grass species are listed, given the particular drainage, fertility, and pH characteristics of the soil. (When consulting the table, producers should remember that soil pH can be increased with lime, soil fertility can be improved with fertilizer, and soil drainage improved with tiling). The remaining characteristics (reading to the right) are plant-related and determine which grass should be selected for a specific use. The last column contains relevant information such as comments on use and references to helpful publications.

Table 1. Forage grass species characteristics.

SOIL CHARACTERISTICS                              PLANT CHARACTERISTICS                             SEED CHARACTERISTICS              USE AND COMMENTS     
________________________            ___________________________________________________   _____________________________________   ________________________________________
(Minimum Adequate Level)
                                                                                                              Emer-    Optimum
        Soil                                             Winter         Drought   Cool or Pounds             gence      Germ.
Drain-  Fer-    Soil                             Palat-  Hardi- Growth   Toler-   Warm    Per     Seeds Per   Time       Temp.    (See references to
age    tility    pH       Species    Longevity   ability ness    Habit   ance     Season  Bushel   Pound     (Days)     (F.)     extension publications)

VPD1*   M-H2*   5.8-8.2    Reed      Perennial    L2*     G3*    S4*      G3*      C5*     44-486*  533,000     21       70-85    Pasture (immature stages only), hay,
                          Canarygrass                                                                                             soil conservation;AY-60.

PD      L       5.4-6.2   Redtop     Perennial    L-M      G     S        F        C       14     4,990,000     10       70-85    Pasture, hay;low yielding.

SPD     L-M     5.4-8.2   Switchgrass Perennial   M        G     B1       G        W       40       389,000     21       60-70    Pasture, hay,wildlife cover.

SPD     L-M     5.8-6.2   Rye           Annual    M        VG    B        G        C       56        18,000      7       60-70    Late fall-early spring pasture, silage

SPD     L-M     5.8-6.2   Triticale     Annual    M        F-G   B        G        C       50        16,000      7       60-70    Late fall-early spring pasture, silage.

SPD     M       5.4-6.2   Tall fescue Perennial   M        F     S        F        C       22       227,000     14       60-85    Pasture (include legume with mixture),
                                                                                                                                  hay, soil conservation; AY-98 and AY-258.
SPD     M       5.5-8.2   Orchardgrass Perennial  M-H      F     B        F        C       14       654,000     18       60-75    Pasture, hay (withstands 4 cut system
                                                                                                                                   with alfalfa).
SPD     M       5.4-6.2   Timothy      Perennial  H        G     B        P        C       45     1,230,000     10       60-85    Pasture, hay (no more than 3 cut
                                                                                                                                 system with legume included).
SPD     M       5.8-6.5   Kentucky     Perennial  VH       G     S        P        C       14     2,177,000     28       60-75    Pasture; excellent quality, but low
                          bluegrass                                                                                               yields.
SPD     M       6.0-6.5   Wheat          Annual    H       G     B        G        C       60        15,000      7       60-70    Late fall-early spring pasture, silage.

SPD     M       6.2-6.8   Barley         Annual   M-H      F-G   B        G        C       48        14,000      7       60-75    Late fall-early spring pasture, silage.

SPD    M-H      5.6-6.2   Ryegrass      Annual or  VH    - to F  B        P        C       24       227,000     14       60-75    Pasture, hay;quick establishment.

SPD    M-H      5.6-6.2   Bermudagrass   Perennial  M      P     S        G        W       40     1,787,000     21       70-95    Pasture in southernmost Indiana only,

SPD    H        5.8-6.5    Smooth      Perennial   VH     G     S        G        C       14       138,000     14       70-85    Pasture, hay (no more than 3 cut system
                          Dromegrass                                                                                            when legume included), soil conservation.

MWD   L-M       5.4-6.2   Big bluestem  Perennial  H      G     S        G        W        8 B     165,000     28       60-85    Pasture, hay,
                                                                                          25 D

MWD   L-M       5.4-6.2   Indiangrass   Perennial  H      G     S        C        W        8 B     175,000     28       60-85    Pasture, hay.
                                                                                          25 D

MWD    M       6.2-6.8   Pearl millet    Annual    M      -     B        G        W       50        88,000      7       70-85    Supplemental pasture; rarely grown,
                                                                                                                                regrowth slower than sudangrass.

MWD   M       6.0-6.5   Spring oats     Annual     H      -     B        P        C       32        13,000     10       60-70    Fall grazing or spring grazing, silage.

MWD   M-H     6.0-6.5    Corn           Annual     H      -     B        F        W       56         1,118     10       70-85    Silage; NCH-49

MWD   M-H     6.0-6.5   Sudangrass      Annual     H      -     B        G        W       40        55,000     10       60-85    Supplemental pasture; AY-196.

MWD   M-H     6.0-6.5   Sorghum X       Annual   M-H      -     B        G        W       56        28,000     10       60-85    Supplemental pasture; AY-196.

MWD   M-H     6.0-6.55   Sorghum        Annual   M-H      -     B        G        W       56        28,000     10       60-85    Silage.

1*VPD = Very Poorly Drained  SPD = Somewhat Poorly Drained  *2L = Low     H = High        *3P = Poor     *4B = Bunchgrass   *5C = Cool     *6B = Bearded
   PD = Poorly Drained       MWD = Moderately Well Drained  M = Medium    VH = Very High   F = Fair      B1 = Bunchlike      W = Warm       D =Debearded
                                                                                       G = Good     S = Sod

Table 2.

The appropriate range of times to seed the grass crops and suggested seeding rates are found in Table 2 (Seeding dates and rates for pure stands of forage grasses). Producers in northern Indiana should plant their crop earlier in the span of time suggested for the late summer seeding and later in the timespan suggested for the spring seeding. Southern Indiana producers can plant their crop at the later summer date and earlier spring date suggested and obtain a satisfactory stand.

Careful selection of seeding time is, of course, important because planting earlier or later than the suggested seeding dates usually results in the young seedlings being killed by drought in the summer or cold weather in the winter. Weed pressure is also greater if spring plantings are delayed.

Another factor to consider is that some seed lots have a large quantity of inert material or non-viable seed. Since only live seed of the selected forage has importance to the producer, buying, selling, and seeding forage crops on a pure live seed (PLS) basis are important practices to follow. Thus the third column in Table 2 is PLS based.

The PLS content of a given lot can be calculated through information found on the seed tag, which contains data on the germination and purity percentages of the bulk seed:

   % PLS = % purity x % germination.

The amount of pure live seed in a quantity of bulk seed is found through the following equation:

   Pounds bulk seed x % PLS  = pounds PLS.

For instance, suppose a 100 pound bag of tall fescue with a germination value of 80% and a purity value of 90% is purchased. According to the definition of % PLS, only 72% of the bulk seed is pure live seed (90% x 80%). This means that only 72 of the 100 pounds of bulk seed purchased can germinate and produce the desired crop. If the producer establishes the tall fescue correctly, consulting Table 2, approximately 21 pounds of the bulk seed will be sown on each acre [(15 pounds PLS/acre)/(0.72 pound PLS/pound bulk seed) = 20.8 pounds bulk seed / acre].

If 15 pounds of bulk seed are sown per acre, only 10.8 pounds of PLS are sown per acre [(15 pounds bulk seed/acre) x (72% PLS/pound bulk seed) 10.8 pounds PLS/acre]. This 10 pound seeding rate difference (20.8 - 10.8) can be significant enough to cause an establishment failure be cause of improper seeding practices.

Table 2. Seeding dates and rates for pure stands of forage grasses.

                                                           Seeding Rate
                                                          (Pounds Pure Live
      Grass                  Seeding Date(s)              Seed Per Acre)*

Barley                   Sept. 15 -   Oct. 15             96

Bermudagrass             Apr. 15 - May 30                 6-8

Big Bluestem             Apr. 15 - May 30                 10-12

Corn                     Apr. 25 - June 1                 25,000 PLS/Acre

Indiangrass              Apr. 15 - May 30                 8-10

Kentucky Bluegrass       Feb. 1  - May 1 or               5-10
                         Aug. 1  - Sept. 15

Orchardgrass             Mar. 1  - May 1 or               10
                         Aug. 1  - Sept. 1

Pearl millet             May 1 - June 1                   15-20

Redtop                   Feb. 1 - May 1                   3-6

Reed canarygrass         Mar. 1  - May 1 or               6-8
                         Aug. 1  - Sept. 1

Rye                      Sept. 15 - Oct. 30               112

Ryegrass                 Mar. 1  - May 1 or               15-20
                         Aug. 1  - Sept. 1

Smooth bromegrass        Feb. 1  - May 1 or               10-15
                         Aug. 1  - Sept. 1

Sorghum                  May 1  - July 15                 5-10

Sorghum X Sudangrass     May 1  - July 15                 20

Spring Oats              Mar. 1  - Apr. 15 or             96
                         Aug. 1  - Sept. 1
                             (Fall Grazing)

Sudangrass               May 1 - July 15                  25

Switchgrass              Apr. 15 - May 30                 5-8

Tall fescue              Mar. 1  - May 1 or               15
                         Aug. 1  - Sept. 1

Timothy                  Feb. 1  - May 1 or              3-6
                         Aug. 1  - Nov. 1            (heavier rate in spring)

Triticale                Sept. 15 - Oct. 30               100

Wheat                    Sept. 15 - Oct. 30               120
* For definition of "Pure Live Seed", see discussion of Table 2 above.

Selecting the Right Legume

Table 3 (Forage legume species characteristics) and Table 4 (Seeding dates and rates for pure stands of forage legumes) are organized like Tables 1 and 2, respectively. As in the case of grasses, soil characteristics indicate whether a legume is adapted to a certain location. Table 3 identifies some key plant characteristics of several legumes and will help producers select legumes adapted to their land resources. Suggested seeding rates for pure legume stands and times of seeding are included in Table 4. Producers should follow the guidelines for planting date and location in Indiana discussed in the preceding section.

Table 3. Forage legume species characteristics.

SOIL CHARACTERISTICS                                        PLANT CHARACTERISTICS                             SEED CHARACTERISTICS        USE AND COMMENTS
_______________________                           ________________________________________    _____________________________________     _____________________________________________
(Minimum Adequate Level)                                                                                           Emer-    Optimum
       Soil                                               Winter  Drought  Cool or            Pounds               gence     Germ.
Drain-  Fer-   Soil                               Palat-   Hardi-  Toler-   Warm     Bloat    Per      Seeds       Time      Temp.     (See references to
age   tility   pH       Species       Longevity   ability  ness    ance    Season    Hazard   Bushel   Per Pound   (Days)    (F)        extension publications)
PD*1   M*2   6.0-6.5   Alsike clover    Perennial  H*2      G*2     F*3      C*4      Yes      60      700,000      7        70     Pasture, hay; best suited to poorly
                                      (acts as                                                                                       drained sites.

PD     M     6.0-6.5 White Dutch clover Perennial  VH        G       P       C        Yes       60     800,000      10       70     Pasture only; extremely low yielding,

PD     H     6.0-6.5  Ladino clover     Perennial  VH        F       P        C       Yes       60     860,000      10       70     Pasture only; low yielding.

SPD    L     5.5-6.2  Sericea lespedeza Perennial L-M        F       F        W        No       60     350,000      28      70-95   Roadside vegetation, wildlife cover.

SPD    L     5.5-6.2  Striate lespedeza Summer     H       --       F        W        No       25     190,000      14      70-95   Late summer pasture or hay; must
                                        Annual                                               Unhulled                              reseed itself annually to persist,
SPD    L     5.5-6.2   Korean lespedeza Summer     H       --       F        W        No       40     225,000      14      70-90   Late summer pasture or hay; must
                                         Annual                                               Unhulled                              reseed itself annually to persist.
SPD   L-M    5.8-6.5   Cowpeas          Summer     H       --       F        W        No       60       3,000       8      70-85   Rarely grown,

SPD   M      5.8-6.5   Hairy vetch      Winter     M       F-P      F        C        Yes      60      20,000      14         70   Included with small grains for a
                                        Annual                                                                                     forage, winter cover crop in southern
                                                                                                                                    Indiana; AY-247.
SPD   M     6.0-6.5   Crownvetch        Perennial  M       G        F        C        No       60     110,000      14         70   Roadside vegetation; AY-178,
SPD   M     6.0-6.5   Crimson clover    Winter     H       VP       P        C        Yes      60     150,000       7         70   Pasture, hay; extreme southern Indiana
                                        Annual                                                                                       only.

SPD   M     6.0-6.8   Birdsfoot trefoil Perennial  VH      G        F        C        No       60     375,000       7         70   Complements Kentucky bluegrass; low
                                                                                                                                    seedlinq vigor; ID-139.

SPD   M     6.2-6.8   Soybeans         Summer      H       --       F        W        Yes      60       3,000       8       70-75  Emergency hay or silage crop, often
                                       Annual                                                                                       included with Sorghum in a mixture;
                                                                                                                                    rarely grown for forage today.

SPD   M     6.2-6.8   Red clover       Perennial   H        G       F        C        Yes      60      275,000      7         70   Excellent pasture renovation crop,
                                    (acts as                                                                                        short-term hay crop.

SPD   M    6.5-6.8   Sainfoin          Perennial   M        G       G        C        No       55       30,000      10       70-85 Pasture, hay; rarely grown dryland
                                                                                                                                    forage legume.

SPD  M-H   6.0-6.5   Kudzu             Perennial  L-M      VP       F        W     Generally   54       37,000      14       70-85 Pasture; considered a weed because it
                                                                                      Not                                           is extremely aggressive,

WD   M-H  6.8-7.2   Sweetclover        Annual or   M     - to G      G        C       Yes       60      260,000       7         70  Green Manure crop, forage for bees,
                                       biennial                                                                                         Hay, pasture, silage; sweetclover
                                                                                                                                    disease can be a problem; AY-213.

WD   H   6.6-7.2   Alfalfa             Perennial   VH        G        G        C        Yes      60      200,000       7         70  Hay, silage, pasture, green  manure crop.
1*PD  = Poorly Drained         WD = Well Drained      *2L = Low      H = High         *3VP = Very Poor  F = Fair       4*C = Cool
SPD = Somewhat Poorly Drained                       M = Medium    VH = Very High        P = Poor        G = Good       W = Warm

Table 4. Seeding dates and rates for pure stands of forage legumes.

                                                   Seeding Rate
                                                  (Pounds Pure Live
      Legume             Seeding Date(s)          Seed Per Acre)*
Alfalfa                  Mar. 1 - May I or        12-15
                         Aug. 1 - Sept. 1

Alsike clover            Jan. 1 - May 1 or         6-10
                         Aug. 1 - Sept. 1

Birdsfoot trefoil        Mar. 1 - May 1 or         4- 6
                         Aug. 1 - Sept. 1

Cowpeas                   May 1 - July 1          30-60

Crimson clover           July 15 - Aug. 1         20-30

Crownvetch               Mar. 1 -  May 1          10-15

Hairy vetch              Aug. 1 -  Oct. 1         20-30

Korean lespedeza         Feb. 1 -  May 1          25-30 unhulled

Ladino clover            Jan. 1 - May 1 or         2- 4
                         Aug. 1 - Sept. 1

Red clover               Jan. 1 - May 1 or         8-10
                         Aug. 1 - Sept. 1

Sainfoin                 Mar. 1 - May  1           30

Sericea lespedeza        Mar. 1 - June 1           30

Soybean                  May 1 - July  1          45-60

Striate lespedeza        Feb. 1 - May  1          30-35 unhulled

Sweetclover              Feb. 1 - May  1          10-12

White Dutch clover       Jan. 1 - May 1 or         2- 4
                         Aug. 1 - Sept. 1

* For definition of "Pure Live Seed", see page 2.

Selecting the Right Mixture

An earlier section suggests that there are situations in which a grass-legume mixture may be desired. In such situations, Tables 1 and 3 can be used to match the proper grass with the proper legume. For example, comparing the two tables tells the producer that alfalfa would not be a good legume to include with orchardgrass if the soil is not well drained. Table 3 informs the producer that a legume like red clover, which is adapted to somewhat poorly drained conditions, would be a better alternative. (Again, producers should remember that tiling can lessen or solve some drainage problems.)

As indicated in Table 1, timothy and smooth bromegrass do not persist too well if four cuttings of an alfalfa-grass mixture are made each year. Since producers striving for top hay quality will be cutting their fields four times each year, a better grass alternative for these producers would be orchardgrass, which can withstand this cutting schedule. Table 5 (Seeding rates for grass-legume mixtures) provides the seeding rates of the grasses and legumes to be used in the selected mixture.

Table 5. Seeding rates for grass-legume mixtures.

    ------------------------------------------                            ------------------------------------------------------------------------------

                                                                                                     Smooth        Reed
                                                                         Orchard-       Tall         Brome-       Canary-                     Kentucky
Primary Legume                      Secondary Legume                      grass         Fescue       grass         grass        Timothy       Bluegrass
Alfalfa                   8-10                                               4-6             --        5-7           ---            2-4

Alfalfa                    4-6      Red clover                 4-6           4-6             --        5-7           ---            2-4

Alfalfa                    6-8      Red clover                 2-4           4-6             --        5-7           ---            2-4

Alfalfa                    6-8      Ladino clover              1/4           4-6             --        5-7           ---            2-4

Red clover                 6-8                                               4-6           8-10        5-7           ---            2-4

Red clover                 4-6      Ladino clover              1/4           4-6           8-10        5-7           ---            2-4

Red clover                 6-8      Annual lespedeza             8           ---           8-10        ---           ---            ---

Alsike clover              3-4                                               4-6           8-10        5-7           3-5            2-4

Alsike clover                2      Ladino clover              1/4           4-6           8-10        5-7           3-5            2-4

Birdsfoot trefoil            5                                               4-6             --        ---           ---            2-4            2-4

Annual lespedeza            15                                               4-6           8-10        ---           ---            ---

Ladino clover                1                                               4-6           8-10        5-7           3-5            2-4
* For definition of "Pure Live Seed", see discussion of Table 2 above.

It is practical and cost effective to take the time to consider forage species in terms of the land in which they are to be sown and the uses to which they will be put. This way, whether a pure stand or a mixture is eventually selected, it will be a selection specifically adapted to the producer's soil and will meet his criteria, thus assuring long-term forage production.

Related Publications

Contact your county Extension office, or write the Publications Mailing Room, 301 S. 2nd Street, Lafayette, IN 47905-1092, for the following related publications.

AY-60 Reed Canarygrass
AY-178 Crownvetch Seed Production
AY-196 Minimizing the Prussic Acid Poisoning Hazard in Forages
AY-233 Sweetclover Production and Utilization in Indiana
AY-247 Winter Cover Crops-Their Value and Management
AY-258 Minimizing Tall Fescue Toxicity
ID-139 Birdsfoot Trefoil Production and Utilization in Indiana
NCH-49 Corn Silage Harvest Techniques

RR 12/91

Cooperative Extension work in Agriculture and Home Economics, state of Indiana, Purdue University, and U.S> Department of Agriculture cooperating: H.A. Wadsworth, Director, West Lafayette, IN. Issued in furtherance of the acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914. The Cooperative Extension Service of Purdue University is an affirmative action/equal opportunity institution.