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Spring Pasture Renovation

Step By Step Instruction For Pasture Renovation

Cattle graze in a spring pastureFrom time to time, pastures need to be renovated.  Pasture renovation is a relatively easy process that involves improving the soil pH, controlling weeds and adding new seed to increase forage yield and quality.  There are two primary issues which create the need for renovation:

  1. Reduction of overall stand.
  2. Reduction in palatable plants.

The reduction of overall stand is easy for everyone to see. When grasses, like tall fescue or orchardgrass, start to show clumping, the plant populations are too low. It is best to renovate a pasture in decline prior to significant weed invasion, especially in a pasture where there is a combination of both broad leaf legumes, like alfalfa and clover, and grass. However, before spending money to renovate, it is best to control as many weeds as possible. If this means applying an herbicide that will kill most of the legumes, simply add more legume seed to the renovation mixture. The reverse is true if it is a grass type weed you need to control.

It is more difficult to notice a reduction in palatable plants. Animals will tend to graze the most palatable plants in a pasture regardless of species. This ultimately leads to a pasture that may look healthy, but is actually causing a reduction in animal performance. The loss of performance is caused by a reduction in daily forage intake. For this reason alone, it is a good idea to renovate a pasture every few years to ensure the highest number of palatable, high yielding plants possible per acre. If there have been genetic improvements in your pasture varieties, this is a good time to incorporate new varieties into an old pasture.

Fall is probably the best time to renovate pastures, but if the opportunity for fall renovation is missed, spring is a good alternative. If spring is too full of other activities to send time on pasture renovation, there are still some things you can do to prepare for a successful renovation later in the year or the following year, like soil testing and adding lime if necessary or controlling weeds.

Following is an outline of the steps for pasture renovation:

    1. Up to a year prior to pasture renovation:
      1. Test the soil and add lime as recommended
      2. Begin an active weed control program to eliminate weeds prior to seeding
    2. Prior to seeding, close graze or clip the pasture short. This allows the best opportunity for good seed to soil contact which is essential for the seed to germinate, and then to start growing with the minimum of competition from established plants.

    3. Seed bed preparation:
      1. Minimum tillage: After close grazing or clipping, some minimum tillage may be done to increase exposed soil and reduce competition. After seeding, a cultipacker should be run over the soil to maximize seed to soil contact.
      2. No till drills may also be used to seed into an established closely clipped sod.
    4. After seedlings have emerged, fertilizer may be provided to maximize the growth rate of the new seedlings. Timing is important as fertilizing too early will provide nutrients for the established plants to use which may lead to a growth spurt and excessive competition with the emerging seedlings.
    5. Renovations may be done in the fall if soil moisture is adequate and in the spring provided the proper steps have been taken to prepare the pasture for over seeding. Legume seeds (primarily the clovers) may be frost seeded but this is a risky venture for the establishment of grass.

    As the pasture establishes, make sure enough time has elapsed before grazing to ensure plants are well rooted.

    For more information on pasture renovation, or to speak to one of our agronomists or livestock specialists in your area, find your local Southern States store.

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