Rejuvenating a tired pasture
Looking for advice on rejuvenating my pasture. After last summer my pasture is something to be desired. I would really like to try rejuvenating what is there vs tilling and re-seeding from scratch at this point. I was reading up on frost seeing and think that is the method I would use this year, and if I end up needing to till next year I will deal with that then. From what I had researched, it is easiest to overgraze the fall before so the seed will have best likelihood of hitting dirt, so that is what I did. I just don't know how I go about doing it. We still have snow covering the pasture right now, but I want to get the seed and right equipment to get the job done.
Any advice, good/bad experiences, etc?
Also, any advice on the best seed to use for northern climate (Northern WI)? It is a timothy/orchard grass mix right now with small amounts of clover. I am wanting to incorporate some more drought resistant forage, as last year my mostly grass pasture burned up quickly, and I was supplementing hay 2 months earlier than in normal years.
It is only about 2.5-3acres with 2 horses (1 horse, 1 pony) so I would like seeding with something that can withstand a fair amount of traffic.
Thanks in advance!!
In the spring while the ground is damp, I pull a set of steel harrow (old style) and make a few rounds of the field. Armed with about 5 lbs of timothy seed I'm conscious of wind direction and toss small handfulls of seed downwind where the harrows have scratched the ground. It doesn't make a huge difference but it does make a difference. By doing this every spring there has been considerable improvement in my pasture. You'll learn to drive and toss at the same time.
contact local soil & water office, or extension office they would have some ideas to help
or check with your local seed & fertilizer dealer, just ask some detailed questions as to how they would go about rejuvenating without tearing it up completely then either hire them or buy your seed and go about it yourself
So many things to consider here... lucky you, not only are you a horse owner you get to be a grass farmer by default. LOL
It's great that your thinking to get ahead of it and doing something about it!
What are you doing for fertilizer?
When was the last time the field was dragged/harrowed or tilled?
How long have the horses been on the pastures?
Are you set up for rotational grazing?
Have you ever had the soil tested?
When was the last time it was seeded?
Fun stuff huh? LOL
Anyway, you most likely need to get some organic matter down into the soil and the ground probably needs to be broken up. No matter what seed you put down it will end up wasted if there is no "open space" for the roots to grow in. The grass roots grow in the air spaces between the dirt particles. Without that space the roots can't get in to draw nutrients, water or survive dry spells, let alone a horse chewing it up.
Not knowing any of your fields particulars, I'd say that the simplest/easiest thing to do would be to:
-set up rotational pastures if you don't have them already.
- get organic matter on the field. You need rich "fluffy" soil for the grass to actually grow.
-use all that horse manure to your advantage and spread it around out there. Make sure you break it up so it can actually fertilize.
-that's where the drag harrow comes in. You can easily DIY one of these with a chain link fence and some heavy boards adding whatever for weighting it down, then drag it behind a riding mower or some such thing.
And then just as tim62988 said, check your local extension web site for helpful tips for your area.
Hope that helped a little.
I'm in the middle of a pasture fix, myself. My 3/4 acre South Pasture had some patches and big swath that the drought finished off. I bought 100 pounds of fill pasture seed. I kicked them off last September. Every spot that I tilled and planted from September-October came up and is growing nicely. The spots that I planted near Thanksgiving didn't take. I've been emptying my stall cleanings on that to help fertilize the 12 ft wide area where it didn't grow. I'm gonna let them graze on it starting about June, bc the rest of it comes in thick, but I'm kicking them off again around Labor Day to finish. My hay man suggested the tilling and the fertilizing.
ALSO, if you have been feeding grass hay, take the sweepings out to use for seed. My horses seeded their 3 acre pasture. It was in corn when we moved in, and the grass that came in later is the same orchard and timothy that they were eating.
We had the opposite issue, a field that wasn't used for at least 7-8 years for grazing animals and 5 years since it was brush-hogged down. We mowed a few times so it was as short as yours. Then we used the chain link method and seeded with a generic horse pasture seed mix for our area from the local John Deere in the late fall and in the spring. We kept the horses off of it for the first mowing or until mid summer so it was established. Mowing, oddly enough, strengthens the grass.
The quickest and cheapest method is the one Saddlebag suggested - that is harrowing and hand broadcasting seed. In a pinch, you can leave off harrowing if you don't have any equipment and do the hand seeding only. Improvements to this process would be the addition of some purchased fertilizer (hand broadcast as well, if needed) and rough cutting the field to get rid of any taller weeds (this helps prevent them from self seeding and provides more access to the sun for the grass seeds). I do it this way as well for patchy spots in my pastures that need help but are too small to justify getting the equipment out and I can say it definitely does work that way. I might add, if you're putting on the chemical fertilizer try doing it just before it rains as that will help break it down so the soil can use it.
Where I am (which I suppose isn't that far from your area with regard to climate, growing season and possibly soil conditions), I'm using mostly brome grass with some alfalfa and a tiny bit of timothy. You may want to consider crested wheat grass as well. There are certain varieties of rye grass that are fairly durable and would work but, as I recall, they may become less palatable once they peak in their growing cycle.
You should contact your local gov't ag rep. I bet he/she will tell you the "proper" way to do your pasture -- ie take it back to tilled dirt, treat with a herbicide then seed, fertilize and pack it. This is all fine and good but that way also takes time, effort and adds considerably to the cost (especially if you have to hire someone to do it). So just thank them for that advice and then do it your way. What you really want from them is to confirm the best palatable and drought resistent grass as well as fertilizer mix for your particular area.
Finally, if you have a quad or atv, there's quite a bit of equipment you can get that attachs to them that can be used for your pasture project - pull type discer, mounted seeder, etc, at reasonable enough prices. Given the size of your pasture, that might be a good way to go rather than having to purchase full size seeding and tilling equipment.
Great ideas from all, thank you so much!
We mowed last fall so any tall grasses are down and that spread any manure pretty good, then I had the horses overgraze, I hated doing that, but I knew that I would re-seed in the spring. I do have a call in to my local extension office, I am waiting for the guy to call me back after he returns from his Easter vacation later this week. Its still too early to take soil sample, as the pasture is still covered in snow, but I was planning on sending one in to see what we need to put down in addition to any fertilizer, ie lime for calcium, etc. I have a whole winters worth of manure that I could spread on the pasture, I was planning on using some for my garden (and the soil sample will help me there too) but I know you can use too much and burn everything up? How much is too much or do I only add manure if I till it in?
I also need to set up rotational grazing as I did not last year, it seemed to keep up very well though, until about mid August, then it was fried from lack of rain. It was part of my neighbors hay field, he hays once a year every year (I wish he'd try for a 2nd crop as I would buy the entire 2nd crop from him but he only does it enough to winter over his cattle) so it is basically a new pasture, but has been fairly well maintained for hay growth, in that sense, although it is due to be tilled, limed, reseeded, and fertilized according to the neighbor. I called the local co-op who suggested if I wanted to frost seed to use red clover, as it is a smaller seed and will take easier than larger grass seed. But I'm not so convinced I want a pasture full of red clover, can we say slobbers. So I'll talk to the other guy and see what he says. I definitely need to do something.
Yeah I wouldn't willingly plant red clover either! Rye comes up hard and fast, then maybe over seed with blue grass. Not sure what your weather is though.
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Oh this darn computer, I've just composed a fairly indepth reply on the manure side of things and it lost it. So, the condensed version is:
Fresh horse manure is high in nitrates which is usually too much for grass and veggies to handle that so they don't thrive. In the pasture, harrow what you've got but don't add more - harrowing the existing will break the piles down to decompose faster and kill off parasites by exposing them to the elements. In the garden, aged would be better (I think best is putting on the garden in fall and tilling it in if you have the time). If you've got a place to keep your winter manure, leave it and let it compost on its own. We did that with our old manure pile (having started another one); after about five years it had pretty much gone to topsoil and that spot became my second garden site (and lovely soil it is, if I may add).
Does your neighbour know you'd take the second cut, if there was one? If he's going to be redoing the field it should then be producing more and you could point out to him that's a financial opportunity for him to recoup his seeding costs.
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