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Old 02/05/08, 08:43 PM
Join Date: Oct 2005
Location: Southside Virginia
Posts: 698
Anyone had experience with Reed Canary Grass??

I have a hayfield, about 3 acres, that is in a low bottomland, former beaver swamp. It is dry in summer, but during winter and rainy spells often patches of water are several inches deep throughout the field. I have sowed orchardgrass, and fescue, both haven't done well due to the wet nature of the soil. I have done research on the internet and have discovered a grass called Reed Canary Grass that is a native in wetland environments, and thrives in boggy places. It is supposed to be high yielding, as nutricious as Orchardgrass, higher than Timothy, and capable of being underwater for up to 4 weeks without killing it. It forms a thick rhizomatic sod, so it is not prone to washing out, and can be cut for hay 3 or 4 times a year without hurting it. From what I have read it will get up to 8' tall if allowed to grow all summer.

I am considering planting Reed Canary Grass in this field but want to hear from anyone who has had experience with this grass to give recommendations. Have you had success with it? Do the animals eat it well? Thanks for all your input! Nathan
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Old 02/05/08, 09:02 PM
Join Date: Jan 2004
Location: MN
Posts: 8,107
Such plants become very woody and not nutritious if they are left to grow so tall. Sort of turn into little trees, all trunk & fiber, not much to eat.

So, if you don't get it baled or grazed, mow it down so it regrows new again if you want it for critters.

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Old 02/05/08, 09:07 PM
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Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: East-Central Ontario
Posts: 4,079

It was in fashion here in the early 90s to plant it along with alfalfa and timothy to boost volumes. Nobody does it anymore. You have to cut or graze it early and keep after it or it gets woody like Paul said and after that you might as well just feed them straw. On its own it might work for the field you're describing but you'll have to manage it closely.
The internet - fueling paranoia and misinformation since 1873.
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Old 02/05/08, 09:20 PM
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Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Missouri
Posts: 1,350
Horse won't eat it, heifers won't eat it, and the goats won't eat it. If it is the only thing left and they are down to the dirt, the goats will relunctantly nibble on it. It is very coarse in texture and they just don't like it.
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Old 02/05/08, 09:29 PM
Join Date: Nov 2005
Location: new york
Posts: 1,607
reed canary grass is a weed in my hay fields. I am surprised your orchard grass didnt do well in that wet area. I have a spot about 30 acres just as you discribed. Wet most of the year. Its mostly orchard and canary grass. but not reed canary. I didnt plant that seed it was there when I bought the farm. but those 2 seem to really like that swampy area.

I do have some reed canary on the real swampy end and its a pain. It grows in clumps. which causes problems with cutting. Its hard to get rid of too. Its tubular leaves are like a stiff stalk. But the horses will eat the stuff. you will need a cutter with a conditioner and more drying time befor you bale it. sounds like you could use a tedder for that wet area too.

how did you plant the orchard seed?
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Old 02/05/08, 10:40 PM
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 583
My entire property is reed canary. While I like the fact it takes the wet, I also find it invasive beyond words. In the three years I've been here I haven't been able to create a veggie garden. It comes through anything you put down!
There are varieties you can buy that are more palatable to livestock, but it still grows faster than you can keep up with- you will need to mow until you are ready to hay. And if you don't hay again you have a mess on your hands.
Do you have a tractor? If I did I wouldn't hate mine so much.
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Old 02/05/08, 11:09 PM
Join Date: Dec 2007
Location: Britton SD
Posts: 224
I think with the responses you have a hint of the plusses and minusses. RC is highly invasive, and once established difficult to control. It has an alkyd in the plants at stages that causes intake problems. That being said it is highly prolific and does a great job producing useably forage if you can keep it from getting to big and rank. In my business we call it keeping it vegetative.

I have a suggestion. Get int ouch with either your extension agent or better yet give your local Natural Resources Conservation Service a call. Usually they are located in an Ag Service CEnter with other USDA agencies. I work for them and this kind of question we get all the time.

If you were here I would tell you to check out Garrison Creeping Foxtail. It performs well on sites that like reed canarygrass. It is a little less invasive, has no alkyd problems, is less prone to getting ridiculously rank, and makes great grazing. But out growing regimen is different from yours, so check it out. They will be able to talk with you very well, it is free ( you are already paying for it on April 15) and they literally are the experts locally.

Good Luck!!!!

Lord, let me be half the man my dogs and my kids think I am, or a quarter of the man my wife wishes I was....
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Old 02/05/08, 11:21 PM
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 104
Recently purchased property with about 15 acres in reed canary grass. With limited time with it, this is what I can tell you so far.

When I first looked at the property, the field had not been cut for years. Of what I found there (looked at it late fall or early winter) it looked to me like it was straw. That is what it turns like if left to grow too long. Once it is like this and overwinters, it falls over and forms mounds of dead matter.

This past spring, since the field had not been cut for years, it had some brush in it, plus all of the old growth that had fallen over. I decided the best thing to do was to simply brush hog it down to cut the new growth, and chop up the old growth. Now our timing for a first cutting of hay is usually mid to late June. I brush hogged this down prior to doing a first cutting of hay, so I would say I cut it down mid June. At that time, the new growth was already four foot high or better.

I intended to brush hog it down one more time in the fall, and see how it did. Well, with some tractor problems, I lost numerous bales of hay that had been cut, but couldn't be baled. I was then scrambling to have enough hay for the year. I went over to this field, and found that the regrowth on this was quite good. I believe it was up about 18-24" this was mid to late august. It was not as stemmy as the first time I cut it down, in fact it was probably more leaf than stem. Cut it and baled it....ended up getting some of the chopped cutting raked into it, but not too bad. Got about 300 bales off the second cutting. The goats like it quite well.

From what I have read on this, I think these are my conclusions:

It grows well in damp areas (very well)

This needs to be cut down early (before heads form) if using for hay.

Problem is the balance of getting the field dry enough without having it be overgrown. This has become my "first field" to get down in the summer. If I can manage it to be dry enough.

There are pre and post '70's varieties, post being better feed quality. Since you are considering it, you will likely be getting a post '70's variety. More research on your part should show a good variety for your conditions/ uses.

My vet pastures his cattle on it.
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Old 02/06/08, 03:10 AM
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 583
As it is permanent I would suggest seeding it only once you are 100% sure that is what you want.
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Old 02/06/08, 06:56 AM
Hillybilly cattle slaves
Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: Grant Co WV/ Washington Co MD
Posts: 1,229
Reed canary makes exellent hay if you manage it properly. IT's the same as any other hay, it needs to be mowed before it's mature. We had some tested along with alfalfa/orchard grass mixed, the reed tested extremely well. Even though both hay was made in the early stage, the alfalfa/orchard grass was much stemmier and coarser. The canary resembled very fine orchard grass when it is in a young stage, if you harvested it at the right time.
All animals eat it without any question. We are located in the Northern Shenandoah Valley. Our neighbor feeds it in his TNR to his dairy cows, but it has to be made EARLY.
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Old 02/06/08, 08:45 AM
Join Date: Oct 2005
Location: Southside Virginia
Posts: 698
I plan to cut it for hay regularly every time it reaches 2 feet tall. From what I have read, the palatablilty and coarseness issues aren't a problem until you let it get very tall and tough. This field is wet through the winter, right now is 6 inches in water in places, which is why the orchardgrass and fescue don't do well (it will do well the first year but that winter will mostly die out due to soggy ground). By early April it is solid enough to go over with a tractor, and stays that way until November or so. Supposedly RCG can be underwater for up to 4 weeks at a time and not kill the rhizomes. I'm not so concerned about it spreading....this field is by itself and honestly an aggressive plant is needed. We don't row crop anything, only pasture and hayfields, so an aggressive sod grass is not a problem, and once it's seeded I plan to leave it that way. I guess I'm more concerned about palatability issues. But it seems from what you're saying that if cut early, like any good hay, it is acceptable to the animals (we feed beef cattle and goats, no horses!! ). Even old fescue and orchardgrass is avoided by most animals if it's tough and dried up.

Thanks ShagbarkMT. I was wondering how it did here in VA. Most of the web articles I've read are from up north, so I didn't know if it did well down here. Management seems to be the issue with this grass. I farm more-or-less full time, and have equipment to properly cut and bale it when it is needed, so I have no intention of letting it get overgrown.

I put in a call to the local Southern States (farm supply store) man to see if he can get seed for it. It's not a common grass, and he didn't have any in stock but would check it out with his suppliers. From what I've read on the web, Palaton and Marathon are the lowest alkaloid varieties, meaning the most palatable. We'll see what he comes up with.
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