Scientific Name: Chloris Gayana
Rhodes grass (chloris gayana) is a leafy perennial grass that grows to a height of between 30‐150cm, depending on ecological zone, soil conditions and prevailing climatic conditions. It is a vigorous grass with a strong root system that spreads quickly by means of stolon’s or runners. It has compressed shoot bases and leaf sheath. The leaves are usually 10‐15cm long and 4‐8cm wide. The leaves can either be flat or folded. The inflorescences consist of 6‐15cm spikes and are 5‐10cm in length. The spikes are initially green in color but they turn brown as they mature. Seeds are fluffy, difficult to handle, and can be hard to establish due to poor germination.
Rhodes grass is a very persistent, drought resistant, and highly productive grass species that does well in low rainfall areas. It is useful in a cut-and-carry system and for open grazing and is very popular for haymaking. It withstands heavy grazing; is very palatable; and is good for haymaking.
Altitude range Rhodes grass grows well between altitudes from 600 to 2000m above sea level.
It does well in areas receiving rainfall of more than 250mm annually and also persists well under dry conditions.
The optimum temperature range is 25‐35⁰C
Soil type and conditions:
Rhodes grass grows in a wide range of soil conditions, but it performs best in loamy, well-drained fertile soils. It does not do well in alkaline or very acidic soils.
Other varieties comprise Pokot, Tozi and Elmba.
On previously cropped land, plough towards the end of the proceeding rainy season. This is followed by dry season ploughing and harrowing for weed control. However, on virgin land, 3 ploughings and 2 harrowing’s may be required to make a good seedbed..
If using seeds, because Rhodes grass seeds are fluffy, they may need to be coated or mixed with a carrier to improve the flow through the seeder. Source of Seed /cuttings; Kenya Seed Company stockists, KALRO, ADC farms. .
Rhodes grass is best grown as a pure stand. Sow seeds early in the rainy season. Seeds can either be broadcasted or drilled in rows 5 -10 mm depth and 30-40 cm apart. Mix the seeds with saw-dust, rough sand or phosphate fertilizer for even distribution. If the seed is mixed with the fertilizer planting should be done immediately to prevent scorching of seed by the fertilizer.
In bimodal rainfall areas sowing is preferred in the short rains so that annual weeds are soon eliminated. Seeds should be sown close to the surface in order to get in contact with moist soil so as to enhance germination. Immediately after sowing, the seedbed should be compacted to enhance germination of the grass seed by improving contact with the soil. This can be done by use of tree branches or even by trampling by foot on small plots. In mechanized farms a roller can be used..
For vegetative propagation, larger clumps (root splits) are cut into pieces and planted at 1 m distance from each other. Use 2‐3 root splits per hole with a spacing of 50cm between plants and 50cm between rows..
The recommended fertilizer rates are: Single Superphosphate (SSP) 2 - 4 bags/ha or Triple Superphosphate (TSP) 1 - 2 bags/ha or Diamonium phosphate (DAP) 1 - 2 bags/ha. Where farmyard manure is to be used, 10 tons/ha should be broadcasted and harrowed in before planting. However, to prevent scorching of the seed, DAP should be used only when there is adequate rains and only well decomposed farmyard manure should be used.
To attain maximum production the grass requires additional nutrients in the form of inorganic fertilizer or farmyard manure. During the establishment year soil nitrogen is adequate for grass productivity. In subsequent seasons top dress grass with 5-7 bags CAN or ASN per ha per year in 3 splits during the rainy season or 5-10 tons of farmyard manure. In areas with phosphate deficiencies topdressing with 2 bags SSP or 1bag of TSP per ha per year after the establishment year. This is in addition to nitrogen fertilizers. Nitrogen fertilizer could be applied one or two months before the dry season in order to increase yields during the dry season.
Rhodes grass can be planted in mixtures with green leaf desmodium (Desmodium intortum), silverleaf desmodium (Desmodium uncinatum), Glycine javanica, Neonotonia wightii, Stylosanthes guianensis, and Lablab purpureus, which have been observed to form excellent mixtures under grazing.
Control weeds during the first year by hand weeding or by use of herbicide (2, 4-D Amine at the rate of 2.5 litres per ha). In subsequent years, keep fields clean by slashing, hand pulling or mowing of weeds.
The stand begins to produce valuable forage within 6 months, though the highest yield is obtained during the second year of cultivation. Rhodes grass is very tolerant to either cutting or grazing. The stand should be maintained in a leafy condition by fairly regular cutting or grazing, since feeding value declines rapidly with onset of flowering .Too frequent cutting or grazing leads to production losses and stand decline. The grass makes good hay if cut at or just before very early flowering. After every harvest of Rhodes grass, add nitrogenous fertilizer or manure. When grass is well established, cattle can be allowed to graze into the Rhodes grass fields. Only allow light grazing over short periods to maintain Rhodes grass in a leafy and highly nutritive condition.
Rhodes grass seed matures 23–25 days after flowering. Yields up to 350 kg seed per hectare can be obtained. Seed can be harvested by hand with sickles and threshed with sticks. It is important to keep the seeding pasture clean of weeds because Rhodes grass seed is more difficult to clean than most other tropical grasses. Rhodes grass often produces two crops of seed per year. Seed can remain viable in storage for up to 4 years.
Rhodes grass seed before and after harvest
Seeds should be stored in a cold room if they have to be kept for long, otherwise, seeds should be planted immediately after harvesting as the seeds readily lose viability.
During the establishment year, grasses reach the early flowering stage 3-4months after planting. At this stage, the plant is not firmly anchored in the soil and therefore it is usually advisable to make hay rather than graze the pastures to avoid the risk of the cattle pulling out the young shoots. If the grass is used to make hay, cuttings can be done once a month.
Hay should be made when it’s dry to ensure the moisture content is low to avoid rotting. The crop should be dried for at least one day before baling. Hay can be made at home or using tractors and balers. Hay should then be kept in-store with proper wind circulation and raised beds for proper wind circulation.
The store should also protect the hay from insects and rain.
Rhodes grass is mainly conserved as hay (for dry season feeding) but can also be used in silage making.
For maximum benefits use the pasture not later than the start of flowering stage. Graze or cut at interval of 4 to 6 weeks leaving stubble height of 5 cm. Graze animals when the grass is at the early flowering stage by moving animals from paddock to paddock. One animal will need 1-2 acres of improved pasture per year in areas receiving over 900 mm rainfall. If you are zero-grazing your animal, note that an average sized dairy cow requires 80 to 100 kg (about 3 gunny bags) of freshly cut grass (in early flowering stage) per day. A cow in mid lactation period will produce on average 5-7kg milk per day on grass alone and 7-10kg milk per day on grass/legume mixture. Cows producing more than this amount should be supplemented with dairy meal.
The highest recorded yield is about 30-40 tons Dry matter /ha.
Yields in the second year may be double those of the establishment year, but this also depends on management and environmental conditions.
Crude protein varies with the age of material and level of nitrogen fertilization, from about 3 to 9% in old grass, to about 20% in young, well-fertilized grass.
In-vitro-digestibility of dry matter (IVDMD) varies from 40 to 69% with genotype.
Nutritive value: Crude Protein content of Rhodes grass is about 8.6% at 50% flowering but declines as the plant matures. The grass is highly palatable and acceptable to animals when young but after seeding it is less attractive.