Thursday, June 04, 2009

Putting Together a Pasture Mix

As the cows have gotten out and grazed our pastures this spring I have really started to notice how much work they need. I have mentioned previously that our 40 acres was in the Conservation Reserve Program for at least 13 years before we purchased it and in that time nothing was really done to it besides the initial seeding of switch grass and various prairie grasses. As you look over the ground on a whole late in the summer you see plenty of tall prairie grass, but once it has been grazed and once you take some time to walk through it you really begin to understand how overgrown everything is with brush and weeds.

Which leads me to my question. Do you have any thoughts on a good pasture mix that I could broadcast on before or after the cows hit an area? I attended a little round table discussion on the subject at the PFI conference this winter and I need to find my notes from that because I realize that this is a subject that is very regional. But, I know that there are people around my neck of the woods that read this blog and I always love to get ideas from other parts of the country.

What kind of grasses, legumes, and even weeds (or at least what some people call weeds) have you had the best success with? And, do you have any suggestions for seeding down areas? Now might not be the best time I realize, but I would like to tackle this as much as possible.


John said...

this thread has a lot of info on how to resolve this issue

John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rich said...

There is a technique in Australia called pasture-cropping and a variant called no-kill cropping, in which a winter annual grain crop is drilled into an existing stand of perennial grass. It is similar to the idea of drilling something like oats, winter rye, or ryegrass into pastures to provide winter grazing, except for the part about harvesting the grain.

Pasture cropping usually involves some fertilizer, and/or herbicides; but the no-kill technique is basically just planting the seed with no fertilizer or herbicide. Depending on the amount of rainfall and soil fertility present, the resulting stand of winter annuals is grazed and then possibly harvested for grain, or is simply grazed over the winter.

With both techniques, the perennial grass pasture is improved by the winter grazing and the increased organic material from the annual grasses (the grain harvest probably also plays a role by clipping weeds, perennial seed heads, etc.).

A quick online search for “pasture cropping” or “no-kill cropping” will provide more information. Or, go to for a quick look.

We grow winter wheat for both grazing and a grain harvest in a conventional manner, but I have had the idea that drilling winter wheat into existing pastures might provide some more winter grazing. With that thought, last fall I ran the drill over some Bermuda-grass covered areas in the corners of a wheat field to see what would happen.

The cattle also grazed these areas when they were on the wheat, but that wheat looks almost as good (or better) than the wheat in the regular field, plus there is a stand of pretty thick Bermuda in the same area that could be grazed right after harvesting the grain.

After noticing how good that wheat looked, I have noticed areas where wheat also came up in spots where we filled the drill and spilled some grain on the ground, (it also looks pretty good). With that in mind, I think that it might be feasible to broadcast seed (wheat, rye, oats, or a combination, etc.) in early fall, then either graze it briefly after ‘seeding’ or drag something like a harrow over it, and get a decent stand of forage with the possibility of a grain crop for either harvesting with a combine or direct harvesting with pigs. If you could find or borrow a grain drill, it would work even better.

It might be an outlandish thought, but it might be one way to improve your pastures, provide more winter/early spring grazing, possibly provide a grain harvest, etc.

Rich said...

Another thought I had is about using winter rye (or ryegrass) for overseeding pastures. Both grasses are hard to control weeds in winter wheat, so think carefully about your neighbors fields before you start broadcasting some 'weedy' grasses.

Ryegrass seems to be in almost every wheat field locally, it almost seems like the seeds have been blown in on the wind.

But, that fact also might mean that grasses like ryegrass, etc. might start growing in your pasture if the conditions are favorable for its germination.

GreenRanchingMom said...

One thing I would really consider is increasing your legumes. We have broadcast seeded [& mineral seeded] both clover & trefoil in native pastures. The legumes increase the nitrogen that is available for the other plants. unlike some, we also love fescue.

John said...

Our local NCRS office has equipment for rent, including a grain drill. May want to check if your local office has one. They use it to promote no-till farming practices. Rental cost is very reasonable.

Walt said...

Have you considered adding some goats to your grazing mix? You say that you have a lot of brush and weeds in your pasture. Goats love brush and weeds and will eat these before they eat the grass. The grazing habits of the goats could improve the pasture for the cows.

Xenophon said...

The University of Missouri has a good guide. While you have the misfortune of not being from Missouri, I'd expect that most of the recommendations would hold for Iowa as well. I think it's $20 to buy, but interlibrary loan would likely find a copy for you.

I know there's a movement in organic agriculture against the land grant Colleges, but your extension agent would likely have some resources.

Steven Estergreen said...

I just found your blog yesterday, and I'm loving it. Wish I had done what you're doing when I was young and my kids were little. And, congratulations on your Anniversary!

Anyway, remember as you try to improve your pasture that most of what is there came about because it is able to deal with the excesses and deficiencies of the soil. Some of the plants are there because they are better at collecting and using whatever it is that your soil lacks. Others are there because they thrive on what your soil is overloaded with. Air, minerals, acid, base, etc.

Learning which plants are indicative of which scarcities or abundances can tell you much about what your soil has or needs. For instance, nettles will thrive in moist shady areas with an overabundance of mulch or manure. Teasle will thrive in clay soil with standing water in the winter, where many grasses and legumes will not. It takes plants with big, tough, carrot-like roots to dig into and break up soil that has been compacted by too much wet-season grazing. And so on.

Use your powers of observation, and talk to other farmers, especially the older ones. Much of this kind of knowledge has been lost in the age of petrochemical farming, just as how to live off the land has been lost since the wanderers, trappers and Native Americans went the way of the bison.

Anonymous said...

Just a short note to comment about No Kill Cropping. It is not a variant of Pasture Cropping but a different system. It does share some similarities as both methods sow and grow crops within grasslands rather than replacing grasslands.
Go to the websites to get further details on the significant differences.

Rich said...

Anonymous -

Do you have any experience with either Pasture Cropping or No-Kill Cropping? Any additional information you have would be interesting.

The more I read about it and experiment the more interested I become in the method. Locally, there are numerous pieces of former cropland covered in native grasses that seem perfect for pasture cropping.

J and J Moo Cattle said...

I had the best luck getting bad pastures to start growing a grass mix and clover mix by Adding Lime to the pasture then feeding the cattle herd all Winter with bales of hay on both sides of the pasture and make them walk across the Field and keep moving the hay to make them take different paths to put the best fertilizer you can get all over the Field. In early spring, Then take some chain link fencing and drag it across the whole field to spread all the Cow Manure And That Will Aerate And Fertilize All Naturally.....And Its Free Except Time And Gas! If you want, Spread some Red Clover Seed For more Protein, Clover Loves to grow with Cow Manure And it will put nitrogen in the soil.
Or.... You Can Spend Thousands On Fertilizer Every Year????

However, This will take a little longer to see results but in a couple years you will have a nice all natural Pasture and it will end up in better shape and the bottom line is to make profit and not give it away and to have the healthiest cattle possible!!!

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