Topics : Species and Forage Variety Trials : Species Fact Sheets : Orchardgrass
Additional orchardgrass information via the Forage Information System (FIS)
Orchardgrass Harvest Management
For highest quality and high yielding hay, orchardgrass should be harvested in spring during boot stage. Beyond this stage, there is little increase in yield and the digestibility decreases at the rate of about 1/2% per day. Aftermath growth can be harvested at 4-6 week intervals. Production and cutting frequency are greatly affected by soil moisture, temperature, fertility and disease.
Since orchardgrass is a high-quality grass, it can be grazed by most classes of livestock. Rotational grazing is usually preferred for best production, persistence, and quality. Fields should be grazed heavily and frequently (every 10 -12 days) during the flush growth of spring, but overgrazing should be avoided. Leave a 3-4 inch stubble so the grass can recover quickly. Heavy grazing during October can lead to depleted root reserves and increased winter injury.
In a 3-year study at Purdue University, animal performance was compared when grazing orchardgrass and tall fescue. Both cows and calves gained approximately 1/2 pound more per day on orchardgrass than on tall fescue. Conception rate of the cows was 18 percentage points higher on the orchardgrass pastures. Although some tests have shown orchardgrass and tall fescue to give similar animal performance, it is generally agreed that orchardgrass is of higher quality than fescue during spring and summer. This is probably associated with the endophyte problem in older varieties of tall fescue. However, fescue is of higher quality in fall, especially after frost.
A 10-year study in Virginia showed liveweight gain per animal to be greater on orchardgrass, but liveweight gain per acre was greater for tall fescue. Palatability, as measured by grazing preference, was higher for orchardgrass than either tall fescue, bromegrass, or bluegrass.