Not long ago, we shared Lyle “Spud” Edwards’ Rules for Being a Successful Dairy Farmer. Rule Number 2 was “Feed Them Well.” I asked Spud to elaborate on that rule by describing the pasture reseeding he’s been doing as part of feeding his grass-based dairy herd. So not long ago we talked by phone while he moved his dry cows.
Mid-May last year, Spud reseeded 6 acres, putting in 20 pounds per acre of perennial rye, fescue, Ladino clover seed, and some other mix. He got the seed from his friend, Jack Lazor, in a trade for use of a tractor and other favors, but I think he would have paid for it too. (Don’t tell Jack!) Seeing as Spud’s got an organic dairy farm, he’d have to buy organic seed at $3/lb or more, so the seed would have cost about $360. Spud said he is really glad he did the reseeding, because now that pasture grows more feed. While 2014 has been an excellent pasture year, he noticed that the reseeded pasture grew faster than it would have otherwise.
Spud’s observation has also been demonstrated by researchers working in Ireland where perennial rye is the predominant grass. The researchers realized that more than half of the dairy farmers were reseeding some of their pastures each year, and wanted to see if there was any value in it. Unlike Spud, who simply drilled new seed into existing pasture, the Irish farmers were plowing up their existing pastures to reseed them starting with bare ground. This costs more, but studies showed that the loss of production when pastures were out of commission for renovation equaled the increased production in the following year. The researchers found that in 20 year-old pasture, yields were only 3.8 tons per acre (8.5 tonnes/hectare), compared to 5.8 tons per acre (13 tonnes/hectare) in the reseeded pasture. This added four grazing rotations through the reseeded pasture, for a total of ten grazing periods there.
Even using different methods, farmers in Ireland renovate for the same reasons Spud did. They want faster regrowth, better quality pasture, and more of it. Reseeding also helps boost production earlier and later in the season (the “shoulder periods”).
Timing reseeding is important. Spud reseeded his six acres in the spring, but about 70% of the farmers in Ireland reseeded in the autumn to try and address their feed needs. The researchers there found some disadvantages to seeding in the autumn: Conditions deteriorate as soil temperatures drop and germination may be reduced. The earlier the reseeding is done, the more successful it is likely to be.
With his spring seeding, Spud hayed in July, when he did 2nd cut on all his other pastures. The cows were back on it August, when the plants had developed strong enough roots to survive some tugging from cows chowing down, and they grazed it 2 times that first year. This year, they have grazed it about 4-5 times already, and they are due to go back in about a week.
Spud has 10 acres he’s planning to renovate this fall. They are full of sedge grass, which his cows won’t eat. The pastures had been wet, which is why the sedge filled in. Last year, he worked on the drainage, and they should support a range of forages. Reseeding will let him try out the new varieties that are constantly being developed, but you can bet there will be clover in whatever mix he chooses. Because, as Spud says, “Clover makes milk.”
For anyone thinking about reseeding, whether it’s renovating or just adding seed to an existing pasture, it’s important to look at two things first: soil health and pasture management. Reseeding might be worthwhile, but if there are soil health issues, such as low pH, or if pastures are being consistently overgrazed, you might just as well dig a hole and throw your money in.
We’ll be sharing more on pasture reseeding in future issues, so stay tuned. And if there’s something special you want us to focus on for you, drop us a note!