Range management specialist provides pasture seeding tips
Traditional annuals and cocktail cover crop mixtures make great forage for cattle on a temporary basis, but over time, a good stand of perennial pasture may be the best choice, according to Canadian Ministry of Agriculture Range Management Extension Specialist and Rancher Lorne Klein of Weyburn, Saskatchewan.
“The most important step is planning ahead,” Klein shares. “I recommend starting by ordering seed during the winter before the planting season and knowing the germination details.”
He adds, “Make sure to order species and varieties specific to the climate of the operation.”
Another thing for producers to consider is whether any herbicide residue is left over from the previous year.
“If the field was annual cropland before and herbicide was applied, there may be an effect on seeded plants this year,” Klein says.
Managing forage residue from the previous year and considering weed potential is also important.
“In years past, perennial weed control was lacking prior to seeding a new pasture,” notes Klein. “This is an issue because producers don’t want to end up with weeds to fight year after year.”
He continues, “Perennial weeds such as quack grass, Canada thistle or other prolific plants can be difficult to control, especially if producers are planting a combination of legumes and grass.”
Planning a healthy permanent pasture and selecting what to grow involves knowing the land and having a good idea about what might work best. If a producer has a perfect field with good soil, they could probably use any variety available and have the plants thrive in the climate.
“If there is temporary flooding on parts of the pasture, salinity or sandy areas, producers need to use a complicated concoction including something for all of the conditions throughout the pasture or consider double seeding the problem areas using a species designated for those specific conditions,” Klein explains. “If there are wetlands or flooding where basic species won’t thrive, plant a different species there. In areas dominated by saline soils, plant a species known to tolerate salty soils.”
Light textured soils, such as sand or gravel, can also be a challenge because they don’t hold water well, and producers might need a drought tolerant variety.
“If there is a mosaic of different soils in a pasture, producers need a seed mix containing a variety of seeds,” states Klein. “Depending on acreage, I usually suggest picking the main species producers want, seeding the whole field with it and then reseeding the problem areas with a different species.”
He continues, “If the problem areas are large, seeding those places with the appropriate species to begin with will be more beneficial.”
The next step is deciding whether to put in a nurse crop. According to Klein, this can help make a difference in the success of a field.
“I include a nurse crop, but cut back on the seeding rate with the intention of cutting it for green feed as opposed to using the full seeding rate and combining it,” Klein explains. “I think a full crop presents too much competition for the new seeding of perennials, so I prefer planting a medium volume.”
He adds, “I like the idea of a nurse crop because a nurse crop will be present whether the pasture is seeded or not. There will be some volunteer plants and a flush of weeds.”
Klein explains using a light seeding rate with a nurse crop can help producers grow green feed crops and establish healthy pasture. Research has shown forage yield in future years will be compromised if the nurse crop is really competitive and inhibits new seeding.
Timing of seeding and weed control tend to go together.
“To allow better weed control, I never get in a hurry to seed perennial forage early in the spring,” Klein notes. “Some say perennial forage needs to be planted early, but I want the first flush of weeds to appear so I can burn them off.”
Klein explains he prefers to get seed in the ground before June to take advantage of seasonal precipitation, however the exact timing depends on location and timing.
For fields to produce high yields, it is important to plant seeds accordingly.
“It is critical to refrain from planting the seed too deep,” says Klein, “With current tools, depth control is good. Most of the equipment today has individual shank control and ideally allows producers to put the seed half an inch into the ground.”
He explains by starting with firm ground, seeds can be blown onto the pasture and harrowed with confidence that seeds won’t be buried too deeply. This way, row spaces are filled and there is not much bare soil left.
“Some grass species will spread and fill in empty spaces over time, but I don’t want rows at the start,” Klein adds. “The disadvantage of broadcasting the seed, however, is producers have to wait for rain.”
“If there is soil moisture right to the top, germination will still occur, even without rain,” he explains. “For some producers, this could be the best option.”
Ideal seeding rates depend on the species and producers’ goals.
“Some consider 10 pounds per acre ideal when seeding perennial forages, but this rate can vary,” Klein states. “When people tell me the species they want to plant, we can calculate how many seeds there are per pound. Then we need to think about how many seeds per square foot producers are actually putting out there.”
There is a tendency to seed heavier rates than needed, but it’s best to err on the side of too much than not enough, shares Klein.
In many cases, Klein notes, producers can seed less than 10 pounds per acre based on species in their seed mix.
“The higher seeding rate is mainly an insurance policy which allows producers to make mistakes. I prefer looking at the details and trying to avoid mistakes, and then I have the option to not over-seed,” says Klein.
A seeding plan will also depend on whether the area will be hayfield or a forage pasture.
“If it’s a hayfield, producers might consider picking the rocks or rolling it after seeding if there are stones,” says Klein. “No one likes to run stones through their machinery.”
Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.