Know your pasture grasses: Nandi Setaria

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Nandi setaria has the greatest range of adaptability of all tropical grasses (altitude 0-3,000m above sea level). It performs well in high rainfall areas with 900-1825 mm per year. The grass can also be grown in transitional zones and arid areas through irrigation.

It withstands considerable periods of drought but also longer flooding.

The grass prefers medium textured, fertile soils, such as loam soil, with pH of 5.5-6.5. It does not tolerate alkalinity or salinity.

Plant characteristics: Nandi setaria is a moderate to tall, bunch grass. The flowering heads are spike-like, and generally have good seed production. The base of vegetative tillers is flattened (fan-shaped), while the leaves are generally broad and mostly hairless. It can grow up to a height of about 2 metres.

Planting: Nandi setaria can be propagated by seed or cuttings. A well-ploughed and manured field is preferred for establishment by seed. Use seed rates of 2 kg per acre of good quality seed. The grass can be broadcasted or sown not more than 15mm deep. When planting by cuttings, use a spacing of 50 cm within and 80 cm between rows. It is slower to establish, harder to eradicate and less useful in the dry season compared with Rhodes grass.

Companion legumes: Nandi setaria can be grown in pure stands or mixed with legumes such as siratro, green and silverleaf desmodium.

Management: Do not graze until the plants are fully attached onto the soil. If the soil is soft, animals might pull the grass out of the ground. Fertilize the grass field after every harvest so that subsequent re-growth is healthy and robust. Farmers are advised to cut and feed the grass to animals rather than letting the animals graze directly. The grass can, however, still withstand light grazing. Regular cutting help maintain vegetative growth and palatability. Young leafy regrowth has good digestibility, but this decreases rapidly as the plant matures, so regular rotational grazing is required.

Uses: The grass gives dry matter yields of 4,000-6,000 kg per acre per year. Setaria is often used for hay and silage. Crude protein content ranges from 5-14% depending on age of material and nitrogen fertilization. Dry matter digestibility is highest when grass is harvested at 3 weeks of re-growth. The grass is highly palatable and accepted by cattle, but has low sodium, and contains oxalate content. Therefore, it should not be fed alone to animals but mixed with other grasses. It is advisable to supplement the grass using protein-rich forages and concentrates.

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