Best in early spring or fall when the weather is cooler and moisture is more reliable.
- Test your soil and fertilize according to soil test recommendations, or consult your local agronomist or extension agency for appropriate recommendations.
- Prepare a fine, firm, clean seedbed that has been tilled to a depth of 2-4 inches. Or if no-tilling, use a chemical burndown to eliminate competition.
- Broadcast or direct seed at the recommended seeding rates.
- Seed should generally not be planted deeper than ½ inch, with smaller-seeded species seeded at ¼ inch. For best results, cultipack after broadcasting seed to assure good seed-to-soil contact.
- Grazing should not be allowed until pasture is 8-10 inches in height and should not be grazed lower than 2-3 inches.
- When mechanically harvesting for hay, leave 3-4 inches of plant growth.
- Improved perennial pastures can typically support an animal unit per acre with adequate moisture and fertility. In areas with limited rainfall and/or fertility, an increase in acres per animal unit is required. It is recommended to consult local expertise in determining pasture stocking rates.
Consult with your local agronomist or extension agency for the best methods in your region.
When seeding, the seedbed should be firm to ensure good soil-to-seed contact. Soil-to-seed contact is essential to increase germination and establishment rates and also makes for healthy seedlings.
Seeding methods include:
- Drill seeding by use of a Brillion grass or No-Till drill. Ensures the best soil-to-seed contact when planted at the recommended depth of 1/8 to 1/4 inch. Note that the seed placement depth varies by soil type, season and available moisture. Consult with your local agronomist on preferred seeding depths in your region.
- Broadcast seeding by broadcast spreader or by hand. Broadcast seeding is not recommended because it does not ensure soil contact nor accurate seed placement. If broadcast seeding is the only option, follow with a drag or a cultipacker to push the seed into the top 1/8 to 1/4 inch of the soil.
- Frost seeding in the spring to take advantage of available moisture and reduced weed competition.
Frost seeding legumes and grasses is an efficient way to improve pasture yields or change the forage composition within the pasture.
Frost seeding has several benefits over traditional forms of planting:
1. Ability to establish forage in an undisturbed sod bed.
2. Reduced need for labor and energy.
3. Minimum equipment investment.
4. Shortened “non-grazing” period.
5. Maintains stand productivity for both grasses and legumes.
As with other planting methods, soil contact is essential for success. This can be achieved by grazing closely in the fall or winter, down to 2 inches, in order to open-up stands and expose soil. Sod-type grasses (bluegrass, brome, bermudagrass) are the most difficult to frost seed, especially where a thick layer of thatch covers the soil surface. In these instances, a limited amount of animal hoof action may be used to help “plant” the seed. Preferred species are festulolium, ryegrass, orchardgrass, ladino clover and red clover.
In the spring, it’s important to reduce plant competition so the new seedlings can develop adequate root systems. By grazing down to 2 inches in the fall, spring regrowth from established plants is slowed down, allowing the seedlings to take hold.
Ideally, it would be best to disk the pasture and grow an annual crop such as corn or oats for one year and seed the pasture the following year. Growing an annual crop helps remove both broadleaf and grass weeds that have strong root systems, destroys mole runs, breaks down the compacted sod and allows the preparation of a good seedbed.
An alternative method is to rotovate the pasture in late fall and leave tilled over winter. Then, work a new seedbed in the spring by rotovation or plowing, followed by dragging into a smooth, firm seedbed. It is important that all past plants be buried so they don’t re-grow.
Seeding in early spring offers the greatest opportunity for successful renovation. Later plantings are likely to suffer during summer droughts because they don’t have the root structure to survive. Also, bacterial nodulation of legumes slows when plants are under moisture stress and weeds become more competitive. If you must plant during the summer, make sure to irrigate sufficiently in order to establish plant growth.
Planting in the early fall can also be successful, depending on moisture levels and temperatures. It is important the seedling is established 45-60 days before temperatures drop to freezing, so plants can get an adequate root system established.
Best Management Practices
Mowing has two primary advantages. First, it reduces weeds,and second, it improves the pasture’s productivity. Mowing before the weed’s seedheads are produced prevents weeds from spreading. Mowing also keeps the grass shorter, which animals prefer because it has less fiber, is higher in protein and more nutrients reside in the younger leaves and stems.
Dragging manure is a recommended form of nutrient management. Dragging a pasture helps to distribute manure nutrients evenly and may reduce the number of hot spots that may contribute to off-site environmental problems. Additionally, dragging enables the water and air to better penetrate the soil.
Resting a pasture is critical to maintaining productivity. Animals tend to overgraze, which may eventually weaken and kill desirable pasture plants, allowing weeds to take hold. Allowing the pasture to recover for 3 to 4 weeks ensures the pasture will remain healthy and productive. Like other field crops, pastures require water to be productive. This is especially important during the recovery period.