Cocksfoot is very valuable for pasture, silage and hay in humid temperate climates. Regrowth is abundant in autumn, which allows for a lengthier grazing period and therefore for more profitable milk and meat production (GNIS, 2011). For example balanced cocksfoot dairy rations can be well utilized by lactating dairy cattle, resulting in higher yields than alfalfa, provided that grass is harvested at a high yield and quality (Jonker et al., 2002). Cocksfoot has to be cut at flowering stage to ensure it is nutritious (high protein content), and also to promote growth of palatable tillers (GNIS, 1987; Piccioni, 1965).
There is abundant literature concerning the use of cocksfoot pasture, hay and silage for all ruminant species and production pathways in temperate regions, including elk and red deer. Another important field of study is the optimization of cocksfoot use in association with legumes. Cocksfoot is often the grass of reference in ruminant feeding trials in temperate countries. Given the large number of specialized Dactylis glomerata varieties available commercially, a meaningful survey of the literature is beyond the scope of this datasheet, and the reader is invited to consult the local extension services in their area for more information on cocksfoot management strategies.
Palatability and intake
Cocksfoot is sometimes described as being highly palatable (USDA-NRCS, 2006). For instance, in palatability trials carried out in the USA in the 1950s, it was the most relished grass when grazed by cows in pastures sown with other grasses such as fescue, Poa pratensis, timothy or brome grass (Voisin, 1988). In more recent trials in New Zealand, grazing calves preferred orchard grass (cocksfoot) over timothy, fescue, ryegrass and legumes (Hunt et al., 1990), High-protein cocksfoot was found to be as palatable as other grasses (Edwards et al., 1993). However, other observations are less positive and cocksfoot has been found to be of low or moderate palatability. These variations can be explained by the protein content or by the variety (Reid et al., 1966; Mizuno et al., 2000; Mills, 2007). In grazing sheep, cocksfoot intake rose with increasing levels of nitrogen fertilizer (Reid et al., 1966; Zhang JiMin et al., 2004). Animals can adapt their intake to grazing conditions: in Argentina, heifers grazing mature cocksfoot regrowths used shorter grazing times and shorter bite rates, resulting in larger intakes (Acosta et al., 2006).
While good, the nutritive value of cocksfoot is somewhat lower to that of highly digestible grasses such as ryegrass (Sanada et al., 2010; Gallais, 1972) or fescue (Schubiger et al., 1997). The variation in nutritive value is large and can be explained by the stage of development and variety (Schubiger et al., 1997). Ranges for OM digestibility and ME values are given in the following table for cocksfoot grown in Western Europe.
Ranges for OM digestibility and ME values for fresh cocksfoot, cocksfoot silage and cocksfoot hay (INRA, 2007)
|OM digestibility %
|ME MJ/kg DM
In New Zealand, Mills, 2007 reported ME values of 10.2-12.4 MJ/kg for cocksfoot pasture. The ME was lower in late spring and summer compared to autumn and winter.
The digestibility of protein is influenced positively by the level of additional fertilizer (Reid et al., 1966). In sacco N degradability in fresh cocksfoot decreases with the age of the forage from 69% at heading to 59% at flowering. It was higher for silages (70-77%) and lower for hay (53%) harvested at the same stage (Aufrère et al., 2003).