Extension Educator discusses pasture seeding considerations, techniques at Farm and Ranch Days
Riverton – On Feb. 9, University of Wyoming Extension Educator Barton Stam shared his thoughts on pasture seeding techniques during the Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days.
What to consider
Stam says producers need to know a lot about where the seed is going before developing a seeding project.
“There’re things we need to know which will make or break our pasture seeding project,” he says.
Stam explains soil type, elevation, aspect-slope and type of crop already growing in the field are key factors to identify in order to create an effective pasture seeding plan.
“I really like to use soil sampling in conjunction with what’s already growing,” he adds. “When producers send a soil sample in, they can get a lot of information which is very useful and costs only $14 to $20.”
Soil testing identifies soil pH and organic matter and helps identify a fertilizer recommendation best suited for the soil, he says. The test also helps producers measure and keep track of soil changes over time.
Stam also notes producers should identify what the pasture seeding will be used for. He encourages producers to identify if it will be used for stabilizing the soil, aesthetic purposes or if cattle will be grazing on it.
“If livestock will be grazing, it’s important to know what kind of livestock and if wildlife will be present,” Stam adds.
Season of use
Stam explains producers using the pasture for grazing should identify what time of year they will want to have livestock grazing. During the growing season, he says it’s important to identify other plant sources besides the selected seeds.
Stam also recommends producers consider nutrition levels the livestock will need to maintain during the grazing period.
“Before seeding, we want to identify the animals’ needs and performance requirements at this specific time of year,” he notes. “Winter grazing requirements can look a lot different than summer grazing.”
Stam mentions palatability of species can be an issue.
“Crested wheatgrass is one of the easiest to establish and grow, but at many times of the year the palatability isn’t very good,” he notes.
“Instead of going with crested wheatgrass in the summer, we could use a western or thickspike wheatgrass, which may extend palatability into the summer,” he says.
Stam mentions these options may not be as aggressive in establishment and may not do as well early in the spring, compared to crested wheatgrass.
He says Wyoming producers with irrigation systems have a higher selection of species to choose from than those without. Dry land range seeding has a high risk for failure because producers are more dependent on late winter snows and early spring rains.
“If you have irrigation, the possibilities go way up, and the level of risk goes way down,” Stam says.
He mentions producers have to make compromises when they don’t have an irrigation system.
“These producers may have to select a less palatable crop due to their restriction of resources,” Stam adds.
Producers often consider the different growing windows for seeding. For most dormant seeds it doesn’t matter whether they’re planted at the end of December or end of March, the results will be the same.
“Dormant season seeding for most species has a huge window,” Stam says. “The window is usually from late October to early spring.”
He says very few species need to be on range all winter, mentioning rice grass and kochia as exceptions.
“These may need to be planted in November and stay out there all winter,” Stam says. “For most species, this is not the case – you want them in the ground ready to grow by very early spring.”
He mentions irrigation plays a role in the success of seeding in different seasons as well.
“If you have irrigation and you’re seeding grasses, I recommend seeding in late summer or early fall,” Stam says. “If you have the resources to irrigate, don’t neglect this seeding opportunity.”
He advises producers to be careful seeding mid-September to mid-November.
“Either shoot for late summer or be absolutely sure it’s a dormant seeding period,” Stam says. “You don’t want to wait until too late in the year, have seed come up and then freeze.”
Stam refers to seeding depth as one of the biggest causes of failures in seeding, other than lack of moisture. He says grass seeds need to be planted fairly shallow.
“Grass seeds are really small,” he notes. “They need good seed-to-soil contact, but you can’t plant them very deep – one quarter to half an inch depth is best.”
Oats are able to be seeded deeper into the ground, Stam says.
“Oats will come up in an inch and a half deep soil,” he notes.
Stam says producers must consider how they will manage the pasture post-seeding.
“Producers should think about when they will first start grazing and if they are going to do a deferring grazing period until the seeds take,” he adds.
“With new seedings we want to do a deferral and allow the seeds to come up and mature before we have livestock grazing on it,” Stam explains. “We need to think of sustainable grazing management.”
Kaitlyn Root is an editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.