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Is Seeding for New Forages in Your Future?

By   /  May 21, 2018  /  1 Comment

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Are you thinking about seeding for improved summer forages? Are you wondering what to seed, how much to seed and how to prepare the seedbed? Here are some tips to think about from Ed Rayburn, West Virginia University Extension Specialist, and a few good places you can go to get advice that’s right for you and your operation.

Be sure your seedbed is ready for planting.

Ed says that skipping this step and increasing the seeding rate to compensate is usually not justified. “If seeds fall on an area of ground that is not suitable for germination and survival, two seeds will do no better than one,” he says. In addition, “If two seedlings emerge close to each other, they will compete with each other and may do no better than one seed.”

You’re better off taking the time to do the math and figure out a proper seeding rate, and then calibrating your drill to make sure it delivers seed evenly across the seed bed.

What should your seeding rate be?

When deciding what seeding rate to use for establishing a new forage seeding, Ed says you need to consider the percentage seed germination, seedling vigor, and the size of the mature plant. Here’s what that means:

Germination Percentage
“The pure seed and seed germination percentage are listed on the bag’s tag for certified and inspected seed.” Note that Ed said “certified and inspected seed,” which ensures you have the variety and the quality seed you want.

Seedling Vigor
Vigor depends on the species and age of seed. Larger seeded plants usually have more vigorous seedlings than small-seeded plants. Seed are also more vigorous the year after harvest than they are if they have aged too long.

Plant Size
The size of the mature plant depends on the genetic ability of the species to increase in size and by the amount of open space around the plant. Some forage species can increase in size by tillering (Kentucky bluegrass, orchardgrass, tall fescue, timothy) or by growing larger crowns (alfalfa, red clover, birdsfoot trefoil, lespedeza). Other species are able to use open areas of the stand by moving growing points underground (Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, smooth bromegrass, reed canarygrass) or above ground (common and ladino-type white clover, bermudagrass).

When mixing forage species, use those that are compatible in growth habit and complement each other in growth distribution and ecological niche. You’ll also want to be sure that their seeds work well together for the kind of equipment you’re going to be using for planting. Different seeds need different planting depths and different size seeds will travel through the seeder differently.

Here are some sample seeding rates courtesy of Ed Rayburn and West Virginia University

Manage your grazing for the results you want.

“The plants that grow in your pasture are the ones most suited to  the management applied to those pasture,” says Ed. In other words, if you want your pastures to look different as a result of adding new forages, you’ll need to graze in ways that allows those species to grow and prosper.

Calibrate your seeding equipment.

A few years ago I spoke at the Georgia Grazing School. The day included a field session where we practiced calibrating a no-till drill to seed the pasture of the farm we were visiting. Calibration is not fun. It’s tedious. But as the farmer we worked with explained, it’s the difference between getting the most out of your seed and labor, or completely wasting the seed, your time and the fuel your tractor uses. He described how one year he’d gotten in too much of a hurry, hadn’t calibrated his drill, and as a result, he planted all the seed in one small pass. The rest of the pasture got nothing, and his seeding didn’t turn out at all as he’d hoped.

Ask the Right People for Help!

Your friends on Facebook might have plenty of good ideas, but asking a random group of people from all across the country may not give you the answers you’re looking for. Instead, check with your local Extension Specialist, Conservation District Office, or your Natural Resources Conservation Service staff. American taxpayers cover the costs to make these experts available, because they want to eat good food.

Here’s a link to find the closest NRCS office. They provide a host of services, and might even be able to find financial assistance for you.

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About the author

Publisher, Editor and Author

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

1 Comment

  1. curt gesch says:

    Re: “Some forage species can increase in size by tillering (Kentucky bluegrass, orchardgrass, tall fescue, timothy)”: the orchard grass in our area is a straight bunch grass that doesn’t spread by tillering as does timothy. Is this a local phenomenon?

    If I have enough $, I tend to overseed: if three seeds sprout and two are crowded out and die, I still have the ground covered. I follow Newman Turner’s advice on that score.

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