Adding Quality Forage to Your Pasture

We asked Genevieve Slocum of Kings Agriseeds and On Pasture author to answer this recent question from an On Pasture reader: Is it possible to overseed alfalfa into existing permanent pasture? We have clover that is coming in but alfalfa greens up faster in spring, survives our summer heat and lasts longer in fall. I was thinking adding about 10% alfalfa might be a huge improvement. We need higher quality feed for our sheep flock now that our production is better. I can't easily plow up and replant though due to the orchard trees we graze under. Most of the articles I find talk about adding clover not alfalfa. Here's the Answer: Clover is a better choice in this situation than alfalfa, for several reasons. In planting alfalfa, it’s usually more economical to start fresh with conventional tillage and seedbed preparation. Alfalfa seed runs more expensive than clover, and the seedlings are slow starters and easily outcompeted by already established species. So you would get mixed-to-poor results for the money spent in trying to interseed alfalfa. Although they are not as drought tolerant, a mix of red and white clovers would be a better choice of legume. Their summer productivity will still be strong and the taproot system is also good for mining water and nutrients during drier times. They can also tolerate wetter soils than alfalfa. Alfalfa requires longer rest periods than other species, averaging 30 days. If you were going to graze a mix that includes alfalfa,

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2 thoughts on “Adding Quality Forage to Your Pasture

  1. In Missouri we inter-seed grazing type alfalfa’s into our fescue clover mixed pastures with no-till drills at 4 lbs/ac rate to get a 10-15% stand. It tolerates ourdry summers and has a deep tap root and is a perennial versus a red clover which is a bi-annual. We limit white clover as it is a very aggressive spreader and can reduce forage production especially on over grazed pastures and is very hard to kill back or to interseed into. If using white clovers we seed at a maximum rate of 1 lb/ac and usually seed at 1/2 lb/ac. I have seen stands of alfalfa in pastures lasting 8-10 years or longer if managed properly.

  2. Thanks for that info. Our pastures have lots of white clovers already but almost no red clovers. Rest periods in our system vary widely and range from a low of 12-14 days up to as long as 60 days. It all depends on the growth. We target moving sheep ideally every 2-3 days but can stretch out to 5-7 days. Lambing is longer move times as we don’t like to move young lambs and don’t have a way to do drift lambing with enough guard dogs to protect all the lambs. Our soils are typically alkaline, ranging from 6.6-7.9 pH. PO4-P was 13.2 over most of the grazing but 7 in one pasture. I’m due for new soil tests this year anyway so I’ll get more data this coming season.

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