Pastures Need Renovation

OSU expert offers tips on how to renew overgrazed paddocks.

Published on: Apr 17, 2008

Like many Ohio farmers, livestock producers looking to re-seed or renovate their pasture paddocks after last year's drought are facing high input and seed costs. Ohio State University Extension educator Rory Lewandowski offers a variety of management strategies to help producers ease back into productive forages this spring.

"Between last year's drought that led to overgrazing of pastures and the late fall and winter rains that kept soils saturated, leading to trampled and muddy pastures, there is a need on many farms to re-seed or renovate at least some pasture paddocks," says Lewandowski with OSU Extension in Athens County. "Like every other input cost, the price of grass and legume seed has increased, but there are options available that allow abused pasture paddocks to recover and become productive again."

Lewandoski offers the following management tips for producers this growing season:

• Do nothing and let the pastures recover naturally. "It's a low-cost option, at least in terms of out-of-pocket expenses, but time is the drawback," says Lewandowski. "Something will re-grow in muddy, trampled paddocks if given enough time."

• Consider seeding. "Seeding offers the possibility to increase pasture productivity and to bring a new mix of forages into the pasture paddock. There have been advances in forages, such as grasses and legumes bred to better tolerate grazing, and genetics that allow plants to be more palatable and productive," says Lewandowski.

• If seeding, aim for 30% evenly distributed legume species to counter high nitrogen prices. "At this level, supplemental fertilizer nitrogen should not be needed. If the area to be planted needs to get a quick cover due to erosion concerns and/or some quicker production is needed for grazing, then include some annual ryegrass seed in the seeding mixture," says Lewandowski

• If seeding, make sure soil pH and soil fertility are ideal for forage productivity. "Soil pH should be above 6.0, with a goal of 6.5. Soil phosphorus level should be at 25 parts per million and soil potassium should be at 100 to 120 ppm," says Lewandowski.

• Do not seed too deep. "Many stand failures can be traced back to planting the forage seed too deep. Seed should be planted about one-quarter of an inch deep," says Lewandowski. "It is better to err on the side of planting shallower rather than deeper."

• Pay attention to seeding rates. "Check the label to determine the percentage of pure live seed and adjust seeding rates accordingly," says Lewandowski.

• Inoculate the seed with the correct rhizobial bacteria, especially if the specific legume species being planted has not been in the pasture paddock for a few years.

Lewandowski said that producers should complete spring seeding by April 20.

"It takes about six to eight weeks for a new seedling to become established. Ideally the new seedlings can develop a good root system while soil moisture is plentiful and before summer temperatures arrive. This is the reason behind setting the spring seeding date target around April 20th," says Lewandowski. "After about eight weeks of growth, or towards the end of June, producers can begin to manage the stand using good rotational grazing principles."

For more information, refer to OSU Extension's Beef Team newsletter at fairfield.osu.edu/ag/beef/beef.html, issue No. 581.