Crabgrass can be a first rate forage

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Jan 31, 2005
by WLJ
Crabgrass is a troublesome weed for most producers. But, with a little careful planning and management, it can be a first rate forage, according to Bruce Anderson, extension Forage Specialist for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
When Anderson says crabgrass, he asks producers what comes to mind? A tangled up mess on cultivator shanks? Aching fingers from weeding the garden? Crowded out plants in an alfalfa field?
Anderson agrees crabgrass can be a problem. But he says it also can be an outstanding forage grass when used in the right place, at the right time and in the right way.
“Cattle love crabgrass,” said Anderson. “When given a choice, cattle will graze crabgrass before almost any other forage. That's why you rarely see much of it in pastures. And they perform well, too. Steers have gained over two and one-half pounds per day on well-managed crabgrass.”
Generally, Anderson has found that most producers use crabgrass in a double crop or multi-crop program. Producers plant it after grazing out rye or another small grain. Later, when the crabgrass goes dormant during cooler weather, a small grain is drilled again, directly into the crabgrass residue.
According to Anderson, it also can be grown in combination with sudangrass, pearl millet, or forage corn.
To use crabgrass most effectively, Anderson said natural reseeding should be encouraged so the crop need not be planted each year. “This might cause some lower animal production as you delay use to assure good seed production, especially during the first year,” he said. “But, after that, plenty of seed probably will be in the soil for several years.”
Like other grasses, Anderson added that crabgrass will respond well to nitrogen fertilizer, irrigation, and rotational grazing.
“In the wrong place, crabgrass is a problem weed,” said Anderson. “If used correctly, though, you can make it one of your best pasture crops.” — WLJ