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Thinking of Seeding Your Pastures?

By   /  January 21, 2019  /  1 Comment

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We have a collection of information on frost seeding. Click here to read more.

By this time of year, any seeding of forages would be considered a dormant seeding. Seeds planted now will lay there until the right conditions present themselves closer to spring. Most producers with pasture or hay ground understand the concept of “frost-seeding.” Frost-seeding is taking advantage of the freeze-thaw process of the soil during winter months. When water in the soil freezes, it moves upward, pushing some soil with it. This creates little pockets for seed to fall into, especially slick smooth seeds like clover. This process provides a good environment for seed-to-soil contact and good conditions for that seed to grow later. Soils that have been disturbed and that have more soil visible are subject to more heaving due to a lack of enough vegetative buffers. Soils that are bare or that have thin cover will freeze quicker and deeper. Soils with heavy cover sometimes don’t freeze much at all.

If you already have some clover planted and are just enhancing what you have, then utilize improved varieties for the best results. If not, then you should inoculate the seed with the appropriate rhizobium. The seed may germinate and thrive without it, but it will do so much better if it is present, especially if one of the goals for planting the legume is as a nitrogen source for the grass component of the stand. The clover fills in the gaps or voids in a grass stand, especially disturbed ones. Adding clover to help fix these sites makes sense. Clover adds diversity, boosts yields, provides pollinator loving plants to the pasture, and there are some benefits, especially with red clover, in reducing or diluting endophyte-infected tall fescue issues.

If there is a lot of disturbance, then the situation gets more challenging. You certainly don’t want to fill in all those voids with legumes. High amounts of some legumes, especially white clover, can increase the risk for bloat. What you really want is something to fill in those voids until the perennial forages can take hold again and compete successfully with opportunist weeds in the spring. By early spring, anything growing in those spaces that can be consumed as forage and not a weed, even temporarily, is a good thing.

Planting grasses into existing grasses is almost always risky at best. Those new little seedlings can’t compete with established plants; it’s just too much competition. Typical tall cool-season forage seeded, such as orchardgrass and tall fescues, don’t come up fast enough in the early spring and by the time they are really starting to grow, the established plants are already outgrowing and outcompeting them. One grass that potentially can fit this bill is perennial rye grass, especially in the southern part of Indiana. In normal weather conditions, it will come on early enough to get a foothold and at least provide enough cover to help reduce weeds and some quality forage too. This rescue method with perennial ryegrass does have some risk, and often does not remain long-term.

If you’re looking for information on what will grow best in your area, check in with someone at your local Natural Resources Conservation Service Office. They’ll have a good idea what works, and may have assistance available to help you get the job done.

Keep On Grazing!

Reminders and Opportunities

Northern Indiana Grazing Conference (NIGC) – February 1-2, 2019, Michiana Event Center (new location) 4405 E Farver St., Shipshewana, IN. For more information about the NIGC or to get a registration form, please call the LaGrange County Soil & Water Conservation District office at 260-463-3471 extension 3.

Southern Indiana Grazing Conference (SIGC) – March 6, 2019, Crane, IN – Speakers include Greg Judy, Darby Simpson, and Peter Allen. For more information contact the Daviess County Soil and Water Conservation office at 812-254-4780, Ext 3, email Toni Allison swcd@daviess.org or visit http://www.daviesscoswcd.org/index.php/sigc or https://www.facebook.com/SouthernIndianaGrazingConference

More pasture information and past issues of Grazing Bites are available at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/in/technical/landuse/pasture/

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About the author

For more than 25 years, Victor Shelton, Indiana agronomist and grazing specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, has provided advice about grazing’s best practices. He travels across the state conducting pasture walks, working one on one with farmers and participating in grazing talks. He also writes a newsletter called "Grazing Bites" as a way to talk about current and seasonal grazing issues and what farmers need to be prepared for.

1 Comment

  1. richard parrott says:

    jim gerrish in a free program for Utah cattlemen in provo Utah maybe 5 years ago ……said cows eat the legumes and pee out the excess nitrogen…. 7 times a day. we see the circles …. so I think …. even though my gated pipe irrigated pastures 3 miles north of buhl Idaho are so thick with grass in some places..no clover will survive( no til planted with haybuster 107s) even a few plants …anywhere…. will result in fertilizing with nitrogen . at age 74 at the time this is the first I heard of this…. it makes more sense than expecting a clover to fix nitrogen enough in the soil to make a difference ….any comments?

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