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Want to improve your pastures? Treat them like a crop.

Fri, Jan 18th, 2013
Posted in All Agriculture

Grazing Specialists John Zinn, NRCS and Dean Thomas, SWCD

Were you dissatisfied with the production of some of your pastures last year, even though you were rotating them and not overgrazing? It could be that your soil is deficient in nutrients. Perhaps it is time to consider interseeding to add more species into your pasture, particularly legumes.


Adding more species to your pastures can make your pasture more productive. If your pastures are short of clovers or other legumes you might see a bump in production because they fix Nitrogen for the grasses. There are a number of ways to add legumes to pasture. Before interseeding ask yourself, “Are weeds a problem in this pasture?” If the answer is yes, consider controlling the weeds before doing anything else. If you use an herbicide, make sure that carryover won’t kill the legumes you want to establish.

Frost seeding uses the freezing and thawing action of the soil to incorporate seeds. Broadcasting seeds on top of the ground, typically in February or March, is the usual method, but it can be used any time the ground is thawing during the day and freezing at night. Red clover and white clover adapt best to frost seeding because they are vigorous seedlings. A typical minimum seeding rate is 6 pounds of an improved red clover and 2 pounds of an improved white clover per acre. Increase rates when grass competition is high. Don’t seed on top of large amounts of snow as the seed may wash away. Pastures that have been grazed short the previous year are the best sites because the grass competition will be reduced. Use flash grazing after seeding to suppress the grasses and allow legumes to establish. This method has the least predictable results because weather conditions influence the soil seed contact and germination. It may be the only option where the pasture is steep, rough or rocky.

No-till seeding is the most reliable way to add legumes to pasture but is limited to ground that is uniform, free from rocks, stones, and not excessively steep. It can be done first thing in the spring when the ground is dry enough for travel. To work best the drill must be adjusted to place the seeds ¼ to ½” deep and a drill with press wheels is desirable to insure good soil seed contact. Although red and white clover works best other species may be added because there is better soil to seed contact. Use rates comparable to the full seeding rate for each species.

A conventional grain drill may be used with soil preparation to maximize soil to seed contact. The soil requirements are the same as no-till seeding and some seedbed preparation with a light disk harrow or field cultivator separately or in combination will be required. Seed at the full rate for the desired legume species and either drag or cultipack after seeding.

Varieties…Use varieties that are adapted to your area, and to your intended purpose. Take advantage of some of the newer commercial releases that have been bred specifically for grazing and higher forage quality.

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