Milo, also known as grain sorghum, is grown widely throughout the Midwest and used in livestock rations. It’s not as popular in the Northeast, but some farmers are giving it a second look.
Milo belongs to the same botanical family as corn, and has a similar upright habit. It has a higher protein level than corn, but is lower in fat and vitamin A. Prior to the 1940s, grain sorghum grew to five to seven feet, which meant problems at harvest time. Modern grain sorghums have dwarfing genes and reach between two and four feet at maturity.
Although corn usually has higher overall yield, milo has several advantages. While corn is cross-pollinated, milo is self-pollinated and produces heads over a longer period of time. Tillers develop over several weeks, so short droughty periods don’t affect pollination and fertilization. In the case of prolonged drought, milo may produce smaller heads, but those heads still contain kernels.
This drought-tolerance means that growers can establish high populations for higher yields. While corn suffers significantly in drought, milo thrives — the worst result is smaller heads and lower yields. Corn can lose a significant amount of moisture during drought, while the foliage of milo is waxy and resists drying.
Milo is planted when soil temperatures range between 60 and 65 degrees. Late-planted crops may have lower yields. Nutrient requirements of milo are similar to corn — both require high nitrogen and lower amounts of phosphorus and potassium. Use soil test results to determine appropriate soil amendments for milo.
The limiting factor for efficient milo production is low temperature rather than total length of growing season. Average temperatures of at least 80 degrees through mid-summer are necessary for high yield.
Grain milo is harvested when seed moisture is between 20 and 25 percent, with the platform set as high as possible to minimize stems in the grain. The crop can also be harvested earlier, at a slightly higher moisture level, for high-moisture grain silage.
Stalk residue can be grazed by beef cattle, and provides ample nutrition for pregnant cows when supplemented with salt, phosphorus and vitamin A. Rations that include milo residue for lactating beef cows should include supplemental protein and energy.
Milo stover can also be used for silage, as long as there is sufficient moisture following grain harvest. Milo stover with moisture content of about 60 to 70 percent can be chopped and ensiled without additional water. Kansas State University research shows that dry, chopped stover or stover silage can be fed as one-third of the roughage in a growing ration, in combination with other better-quality roughage.
Both corn and milo silage contain five to seven percent crude protein and 45 to 55 percent TDN calculated on a dry matter basis. Rations that include milo grain or silage should be carefully reviewed to ensure that adequate nutrient levels are reached for each production group.