There are many variables to take into consideration when planting a pasture. Weather, people, livestock and plant species are just a few. The size and breed of your herd, how much additional feed you require, and your regional climate conditions will determine which plants are best to seed and how well your pasture is going to hold up. Keeping your pasture healthy is important because it directly affects the health of your animals. Not all plants are the same. You will need to research which species are best suited for your environment and as forage material for the breed of livestock you are raising. To run livestock, while maintaining a healthy herd and protecting the ecological integrity of your land, you need to plant a pasture that is diversified, adaptable, durable and nutritious.
Tall Fescue is among the most durable of all pasture grasses. Fescue tends to tolerate the abuse of heavy hooves and grazing and still comes back. This durability derives from a strong, deep root system which is able to give the grass a better hold in many different types of soil. Although Tall Fescue is not the most palatable of the forage grasses, it is the most durable and wear-resistant.
Orchardgrass is a top rated, widely used forage grass. It is very palatable for almost all breeds of livestock, but does not tolerate the abuse of heavy traffic and must be maintained properly to provide a healthy stand of forage material.
Timothy Grass is the Cadillac of grass hay as far as horse and cattle ranchers are concerned. It produces premium hay material, but in many regions Timothy Grass requires very high maintenance and does not hold up to heavy traffic.
Clovers work well to help balance a pasture. They support the health of other occupying grasses by building soils and reintroducing nutrients into the ground. However, if you use clover make sure to consider how you plan to control broadleaf weeds. Without proper weed control you may be forced to spray out the whole pasture.
Tetroploid Ryegrass works well in mixes for fast establishment and recovery of pastures and makes very palatable feed material.
We have put together a few pasture grass mixes and listed them in our online seed store. These mixes were developed for livestock and would do a good job of holding up to the foot traffic and grazing that a small land owner may require.
Our goal is to provide you with the information and seed you need to reestablish an efficient, working pasture for your animals. By purchasing locally grown, family harvested seed you are able to take advantage of high quality products at grower-direct prices.
When replanting a pasture, take a look at the condition of your present pasture and decide your best approach before tackling the job.
Test the soil to find out what is needed to keep your pasture healthy. You should do this a month or so before you start work on your pasture.
If you have a rough pasture that has been overrun by invasive weeds, consider spraying out the vegetation and working up the ground. If the pasture has not been worked in many years and has undergone heavy livestock grazing, it should be worked to a depth of between six and eight inches. After initial tilling, chisel plow or subsoil to a greater depth of at least twelve inches to loosen and oxygenate the soil. Apply the necessary additives at this time to improve any nutritional deficiencies. Tilled soil will allow for better additive absorption.
Be careful not to work the ground if it is too wet. You could damage the soil by doing this and it takes a very long time to recover. To test for wetness pick up a handful of dirt and squeeze it in your hand, making a fist. Hold your hand straight out and drop the dirt on a firm surface. If it remains in a ball and does not break up, the ground needs to dry before you continue.
Once you have worked your soil, you need to harrow and roll it to firm, level and smooth the ground. After this procedure is complete, the soil should be firm enough that when walking across it you don’t sink in more than half to three-quarters of an inch. Allow the ground to sit for two or three weeks, giving the stirred up weed seeds time to sprout. After this period has passed, you can spray the weeds with a selected herbicide at the recommended rate, or use a pasture harrow to remove any seedlings from the top. Keep in mind that spraying is the most effective method for long term weed control.
After you have waited the amount of time recommended on the label of the herbicide, you are ready to plant your pasture. If you are seeding by hand, with a broadcast spreader or with anything other than a drill, we recommend spreading half the seed one direction and the other half in the opposite direction. This ensures a correct application rate and uniform coverage.
Maintaining your Pasture
Livestock should be kept out of the new pasture until it becomes well established. Mow the pasture to a height of 8-12 inches in order to prevent weeds from producing seed. Invasive weeds reseed themselves at a very fast rate, and if neglected they may crowd out the establishing plants. During the course of the first year do not allow heavy grazing. If the plants are cropped too short, the abuse will reduce their overall lifespan and the longevity of the pasture.
If your pasture has tall spots where the grass is starting to seed itself, mow the tops off the plants. Doing so will promote healthy, regenerative growth. Do not permit your herd to graze the plants down to the crown. You will be much better off if you can section your pasture into smaller areas and rotate your animals on a grazing schedule.
Where water is available, irrigate after removing your herd from the pasture. If you water while the herd is grazing the pasture soils can become compacted. By continuing to rotate your herd out of the pasture and following an irrigation schedule you will maintain a steady supply of feed material.
Your pasture should be fertilized in the spring at the recommend rate to promote optimal growth. You can also repeat this application during the growing season. If you irrigate your pasture or if your climate region receives adequate rainfall as the grass growth begins to slow, you should apply a balanced fertilizer in the fall. This will encourage vigorous root growth and keep the plants healthy through the winter.
Fertilizers that consist of high nitrogen levels will result in a tremendous amount of fast growth material. While this may sound appealing, in many cases it can make animals, such as horses, sick. A balanced fertilizer will work best for most application purposes.
Mowing and other Improvements
Keeping your pasture in top shape requires proper care. Mow it down to the bottom height of the seed stems when animals are not foraging. This will allow better plant growth and protect against invasive weed populations. If your animals have grazed the stems shorter and are off the pasture, mow it back late in the season to maintain uniform height.
Additionally, use a pasture harrow a couple times each year when the pasture is short. It is best to do this in the spring and fall. Harrowing will help spread out the animal manure evenly and keep pasture level.
To replant with livestock present, you need to split the pasture in half. This way you will have a place to stage the herd while one half of your pasture’s new seed establishes.
For over-seeding, we recommend using a pasture harrow. Go over the field several times at different angles to loosen a small amount of soil and level it. This allows the seed to establish itself once spread.
If using a broadcast seeding method, plant at 2-3 times the normal seeding rate in order to achieve an optimal stand.
To make sure your pasture will hold up, you need to monitor how your livestock are using it. You can only have so many animals in a given area. The better you take care of that area, the more livestock you can reasonably maintain. Sectioning off one field into smaller areas will increase the quality and life of your pasture, as long as you take the extra time to rotate your livestock through those sections. Remember that a healthy pasture raises healthy animals. And if taken care of properly, one pasture can give you many years of nutritional value.
Pasture seed blends and mixes should provide the diversification necessary to establish a pasture that can meet the nutritional needs of your livestock. We always suggest planting a mix, rather than a single species, in order to benefit from the advantages each variety within the mix can offer. Different plant species may be more capable of generating high feed value, more durable and resistant to heavy traffic, more environmentally adaptable, or capable of reintroducing nutrients into the soil; each helping to promote the health and longevity of your pasture. Single variety pastures are more susceptible to losses in one or more of these categories, as well as infestations of disease, fungus, or other fatal ailments.
Recommended seeding rates
Most new, worked pastures should be planted at a seeding rate of 15-30 Lbs. per acre. The higher the seeding rate, the denser the final stand of grass for grazing. When over-seeding an established pasture after harrowing, working or drilling you should plant a minimum of 60-100 Lbs. per acre. If your ground has not been prepared properly we would suggest an even higher seeding rate.
Feel free to ask your questions in the comment section below and we will do our best to answer them in a timely manner.