Pearl millet is a tall, warm season, annual grass. It originated in Africa and India where it was used for forage and grain. It was introduced into the United States in the 1850s and became established as a minor forage crop in the southeastern and Gulf Coast states. Improved varieties or hybrids are generally leafier and shorter than older varieties. The solid stems are often densely hairy and usually 0.375 to 0.75 inch in diameter. Leaves are long, scabrous, rather slender and may be smooth or have hairy surfaces. Leaves, as well as stems, may vary in color from light yellowish green to deep purple.
A good stand of pearl millet will produce plants with relatively fine stems and profuse leafy growth. Pearl millet has a significantly higher leaf to stem ratio than other forages such as sudangrass, sorghum-sudan and foxtail millets.
The plant tends to tiller profusely under favorable climatic conditions and can compensates for uneven stand establishment. Prop roots arise from the lower nodes to help support the maturing plant. Regrowth potential after harvesting is comparable to sudangrass and much greater than foxtail millet.
Siberian foxtail millet
Siberian foxtail millet is the most commonly grown hay millet in the upper Midwest. It is an early maturing hay millet, ready for harvesting 55-65 days after planting. Siberian is extremely hardy and drought tolerant, making excellent quality hay.
German foxtail millet
German foxtail millet is a longer season type than Siberian, being ready to harvest 65-70 days after planting. German millet is taller with a coarser stem than Siberian. German millet can produce more forage than Siberian and because of its increased stem size it takes better management than other foxtail millets
Japanese foxtail millet
Japanese foxtail millet is distinctly different from other foxtail millets. Japanese is much taller and produces very coarse hay that contains fair feed value. This high tonnage annual forage works well in some rotations.
Note: The content of this series of articles is adapted from Rich Leep’s 2008 article, “Summer annual forage grasses for emergency crops.” Leep was the Michigan State University Extension state forage specialist and is now retired.