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Characteristics of Forage Chicory

Forage chicory (Cichorium intybus L) is a perennial plant that is suited to well or moderately drained soils with medium to high fertility levels and a pH of 5.5 or greater. Chicory produces leafy growth which is higher in nutritive and mineral content (if managed properly) than alfalfa or cool- season grasses. It has a relatively deep taproot which provides tolerance to drought conditions. Chicory provides both spring and summer forage with average growth rates from April through October of 50 lb per acre per day. During peak growth periods chicory produced 73 lb per acre per day. While chicory is a relatively new forage crop in the United States it has been used in other countries for over 300 years. Although it originated in Central Europe, much of the breeding for improved forage characteristics has been completed in New Zealand.

Forage chicory is a low growing rosette plant with broad leaves in the winter, very much like dandelion. With warm temperatures in the spring, it rapidly produces large numbers of leaves from the crown. In late spring, after the establishment year, a few flower stems begin to develop from the crown and will reach heights of 6 ft if ungrazed. The thick tap root of chicory can be exposed and damaged by overgrazing, excessive hoof traffic, and frost heaving.

Adapted Chicory Varieties

'Puna' is the only variety of chicory that is currently sold in the U.S. This variety was developed in New Zealand under grazing conditions and has been very productive in Pennsylvania. Other chicory varieties are being developed and evaluated in New Zealand but are not yet available in this country.

Chicory Establishment

Seeding into a Tilled Seedbed - A moist, firm seedbed is required for forage chicory, chicory-grass, or chicory-legume mixtures. Spring seedings (April 15 through June 1) of chicory have been successful in Pennsylvania. Summer seedings have been successful in New Zealand but have not been tested in Pennsylvania. If chicory is seeded in the summer, seeding should be completed by early August. Cool temperatures and shortening day lengths in the fall impede chicory stand development. Therefore, summer seedings later than recommended may not establish adequately to survive Pennsylvania winters.

Seed may be either drilled or broadcast. Drilling is preferred because it provides a more uniform depth of planting. Plant chicory seeds .25 to .5 inch deep. If chicory is to be broadcast seeded, cultipack the seedbed before and after seeding. This will ensure that the seeds are not planted too deep and that there is good seed-to- soil contact.

Seeding into an Existing Pasture - Broadcasting or no-till drilling the seed are two methods that can be used to seed chicory into existing pastures. Broadcast chicory seed onto existing pastures during the late winter or early spring when the soil freezes at night but thaws during the day. The freezing creates ice crystals which melt during the day leaving small holes in which the seeds can fall. To improve the success of this method, also called frost seeding, be certain to broadcast the seed early in the day before the soil thaws and becomes "greasy".

No-till seeding of chicory into existing pastures has been successful in Pennsylvania. However, proper management is necessary to improve potential establishment with this method. Suppression of the existing sod to reduce competition is the first step in no-till seeding of chicory. Seeding early in the spring or using a molluscide bait will reduce the potential damage associated with slug feeding on chicory seedlings. Generally, slugs hatch around May 15 (in central Pennsylvania) and seeding prior to slug hatching reduces the slug problem.

Seeding rates in mixtures- Chicory seeding rate varies with seedbed condition, method of seeding, and quality of seed. Generally, when seeding chicory alone, rates of 3 to 4 lb per acre are sufficient. When seeding in mixtures, it is advantageous to include a legume because of its nitrogen fixing capability. Germination of stored seed can decline rapidly, therefore seed should be used promptly and not stored from year to year.

No herbicides are currently registered for use with chicory either during or after establishment. Therefore it is important to select fields with little weed pressure for chicory seeding. If weeds do become a problem during establishment, mowing can help suppress the weeds. Chicory regrows rapidly after mowing and can out-grow most weeds.

Chicory Harvest Management

Correct grazing management is essential to maximize the life (5-7 years) of the chicory stand and maintain forage quality. Spring seeded chicory can be grazed after 80 to 100 days depending on climatic conditions. Research at the USDA Pasture Laboratory found that Puna chicory can yield over 3 tons per acre during the seeding year. Chicory production is optimized under rotational grazing management. Depending on time of year, a rest period of 25 to 30 days between grazings is best for chicory persistence and performance. A stubble height of 1.5 to 2 inches should remain after grazing.

After the seeding year, chicory will grow vigorously and attempt to produce stems in the late spring and early summer. Stubble heights greater than 1.5 inches or rest period longer than 25 days can allow stems to bolt (period of rapid stem growth). Once chicory stems have bolted, the production potential of chicory will be reduced for the remainder of the grazing season or until the stems are mowed. Grazing practices which do not allow the chicory flower stems to exceed a six inch height in late May, before they are grazed, and grazing to a 1.5 inch stubble height will reduce the amount of stem bolting.

Keep stems from growing!

When strip grazing chicory, a back fence should be used so that regrowth will not be grazed and weaken the stand.

Established forage chicory stands have yield and quality potentials comparable to many other Pennsylvania forage crops. Yields of 6 ton/acre have been obtained from pure chicory stands in Pennsylvania trials. The digestibility and the mineral content of chicory leaves are greater than alfalfa. The digestibility of chicory leaves is generally between 90 and 95%. Chicory flower stems are less digestible than leaves. This is an additional reason to manage chicory pastures so that stems do not fully develop. Protein levels in chicory range from 10 to 32% depending on plant maturity.

Animal performance on forage chicory has been exceptional. In West Virginia trials, forage chicory pastures produced lamb gains of 820 lb per acre. Studies in New Zealand have reported animal gains of 0.6 lb per day for lambs and 2 lb per day for friesian bulls grazing chicory. Chicory contains relatively high levels of minerals (potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, zinc, and sodium) which are essential for proper animal nutrition.

Forage Chicory Fertility

Fertility needs at seeding should be determined by soil test. Chicory will remain productive at soil pH levels of 4.5, however, it is recommended that soil pH be above 5.5 at seeding to optimize plant establishment. Phosphorus and potassium levels should be in the moderate to optimum range at seeding. Apply nitrogen fertilizer at 35 lb per acre at seeding to stimulate chicory establishment. In the absence of a soil test, assuming a medium-fertility soil, plow down 0-45- 135 lb. per acre and apply 50-20-20 lb. per acre at seeding. If chicory is seeded with a legume, reduce the nitrogen application at seeding.

Chicory requires a high level of fertility for maximum production. It is also very responsive to N fertilization. If chicory is grown without a legume, apply 100 to 150 lb N per acre in split applications of 50 lb per acre in early spring when the chicory becomes green and 50 lb per acre in early summer and in early fall. Yield responses to N fertilizer have been reported up to 200 lb N per acre. However, as N rate increases so does stem growth. Therefore, the yield increase from N fertilization must be weighed against the ability to keep chicory grazed so that stems do not bolt. If chicory is planted with alfalfa or another legume, restrict annual N applications to limit the effect N has on reducing nitrogen fixation of the legume.

Forage Chicory Summary

Forage chicory is a deep-rooted plant which grows best on fertile, well-drained soils. It will provide spring and summer growth which can supplement the grazing season during the traditional "summer slump" of the cool-season forage species. Puna, the only variety of forage chicory currently sold in Pennsylvania, has performed well under Pennsylvania conditions. However, proper management is essential to obtain adequate yield, quality, and persistence.

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This page was last updated on January 23, 2006