Sorghum Trade-Offs: Forage vs Grain
I recently answered a post on the Ask Winke section about sorghum and thought the subject was interesting enough to create a full blog about it.
Also, with the success we have been seeing this year hunting over sorghum plots, it is a timely topic to discuss.
I am definitely going to plant more sorghum on the farm next year – here’s why.
BETTER THAN CORN?
Sorghum is not better than corn if the deer and raccoons leave your corn alone during the growing season. I believe that corn is more attractive to deer than sorghum.
But, if you are not able to effectively grow corn because the deer and raccoons get it during the summer (even fencing the corn has weaknesses because the coons still get to it) sorghum is a good option. That is why I planted five acres of sorghum this year.
That five acre plot has been really productive for me during the late season.
TYPES OF SORGHUM
Keep in mind that there are two categories of sorghum: grain sorghum and forage sorghum. Deer relate to them differently
The tall stuff is called forage sorghum. The seed head is about 7 feet up and is not as easily accessible to deer. Also, the seed head on forage sorghum is not as full as the head on grain sorghum, so the seed production is not as prolific.
Seed companies produce specialized plants depending on purpose. Grain sorghum was hybridized to produce a lot of seed and forage sorghum was hybridized to produce a lot of overall tonnage per acre because farmers chop it and feed the entire stalk to their cattle.
So, it is only common sense that since the deer want the seed and not the stalk, that the grain sorghum is the best choice for a food plot, but it is not quite that simple.
I have planted both grain sorghum and forage sorghum for deer in areas with really high density. They tended to wipe out the grain sorghum in September when the seed was in the “dough” stage. The forage sorghum, though not created for maximum seed production served a purpose here.
TRADE-OFFS IN SORGHUM TYPES
I used a six-row corn planter with sorghum plates installed and planted three rows or forage sorghum and three rows of grain sorghum. So by going down and back (not around and around) I was able to get six rows of forage next to six rows of grain. I felt this was important to get maximum sunlight to the shorter grain sorghum.
The idea with the forage sorghum rows was to give up some seed production in exchange for getting the seed head past the deer when it is most vulnerable (dough stage) and into the fall/winter when it is most needed.
It worked pretty well. The deer hammered the grain sorghum in September when it hit the “dough” stage and pretty much left the forage sorghum alone until into the fall.
Once all the grain sorghum was gone, the deer would reach up with their mouths and bend the tall forage sorghum stalks over to get to the seed heads, but not at the same rate that they hammered the grain sorghum in late September.
Also, as winter arrived, the forage sorghum started to bend and break down on its own, so that brought the seed heads down on its own – within reach of the deer. In addition, the forage sorghum was awesome to sneak through to get to tree stands.
Many times I walked down the middle of the forage sorghum rows and right past deer that were only a few rows over feeding in the grain sorghum! It was crazy.
WHICH ONE TO PLANT
If you don’t need to plant the forage sorghum to get the seed heads past the deer in September you are better off planting the grain sorghum because that style of sorhum produces the higher amount of seed (food) for the deer.
However, even in areas with moderate deer numbers they will start to figure sorghum out and will begin keying on the seeds when they are doughy in September. Every year you may see less and less of your sorghum making it into the fall even if your deer numbers don’t increase.
So, you may have to start adding some forage sorghum even with only moderate deer numbers in time. That is definitely what I saw. On the farm I planted to sorghum back in the 90s (with high deer numbers) the deer pretty much let the grain sorghum go the first year, but by year two or three they were killing it in September. That is when I started to include the forage sorghum rows.
HOW TO PLANT SORGHUM
I am not the best resource on how to plant sorghum. I only know how I have done it. I use no-till planting equipment (planter or drill) and place the seed about 1/2 inch into the ground. I plant in mid-June, but late June and every early July will work if you have a frost date of mid October or later.
I fertilize very similar to how I would fertilize for corn. Sorghum really likes nitrogen so don’t try to cut corners there. I spray the plot with glyphosate, 2,4-D and atrazine just after planting (within a day, if possible) and then just watch it grow.
People who plant sorghum for a living likely have a better chemical protocol than I use, but this has served me well on sorghum in the past.
Good luck. I think it is definitely adding sorghum to your food plot options.