Perennial pastures are valuable to any farm operation and they take a lot of time, effort and money to put in, said Dirk Philipp, associate professor of animal science and forage researcher for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
Perennial pastures that have been in use for many years are prone to weed problems, disappearance of the base forage in certain areas and overuse, Philipp said. In colder months, some of these issues become more obvious, like changed species composition, weed issues and patches of bare soil.
Philipp offers tips on how to get perennial pastures back into shape for three different grasses.
Renovate to get the most for the money. Renovating old pastures takes time and money, so make sure you are using supplies that will give you the best bang for your buck. For a pasture that currently is toxic fescue (KY 31), converting it to novel endophyte, non-toxic tall fescue (NE+) is a good, but expensive option, Philipp said. The field renovation process will last one year, as it must first be thoroughly prepared and the weeds controlled. Farmers should be careful during the first year of growth.
Use the correct seeding rate. If producers have existing NE+ fescue stands, overseeding may be necessary after several years of use. Overseeding with NE+ seeds should take place in October. Philipp said that canopies should be very short, between 2 and 4 inches, to be able to plant through the thatch with a no-till drill. Plan and space out your work; don’t do everything in one fall but over a few years. Philipp recommends using a seeding rate that is close to the original one, about 15 pounds per acre and concentrate on the patches with no fescue. Normally, seeding rates into existing forage stands are smaller than for straight establishment, but many times gaps in the pasture are large enough to warrant normal seeding rates. A no-till drill is a must, Philipp said. It will cut through the existing grass sward and place the seeds into the soil.
Know when to overseed. Orchardgrass is non-toxic, so stands that lose vigor can be overseeded without having to renovate entire fields into new varieties. Overseeding should take place in the fall at a rate of about 15 pounds per acre, Philipp said.
Watch out for nutrient deficiencies. Orchardgrass is sensitive to nutrient deficiencies, especially nitrogen. Make sure to keep soil fertility in check at all times, Philipp said. Avoid fertilizer with extra nitrogen content for the best results.
Overseed with annual forages during dormancy. Bermduagrass is a perennial warm season grass mostly established via sprigging in late spring and cannot be overseeded as easily. However, because bermudagrass is dormant between October and March, these pastures can be overseeded in October with annual forages, like winter cereals or annual legumes, to add forage to a grazing program. Dense existing bermudgrass stands are very competitive, so make sure the canopy is very short before planting after grazing or the last hay cut.
Focus on weeds. To keep healthy bermudagrass stands over time, be diligent with weed control in February and March to take care of winter weeds, Philipp said.
For more information on perennial field maintenance, visit www.uaex.edu/farm-ranch/animals-forages/pastures/, or contact your local county extension agent.