Pasture Planting Planning

“Failing to plan is like planning to fail,” cartoonist Stephen McCranie.

This is very true when it comes to having good pastures. More than once I have heard people say ‘I spent hundreds of dollars on seed and the pastures don’t look any different than they did before I started.’ It usually comes to light that they have ignored one or more of the most important aspects of planning a successful pasture. They may have not done a soils test prior to seeding and have just applied lime and fertilizer indiscriminately to soil that may need completely different amendments or they have just seeded in the middle of summer.

Early spring or fall when the weather is cooler and moisture is more reliable are generally seen as the optimum times for seeding. But to take advantage of those optimal growing conditions you’ll need to plan well ahead. Just as when you are painting a room it is not the roller work but the preparation work that takes the real time.

Successful pastures take 6 to 24 months of planning before you put a single seed into the ground. You will need to allow time for the lime and fertilizer to be absorbed into the soil. This is particularly true for no-till seeding in which lime and fertilizer cannot be mixed directly into the soil. Lime and fertilizer need time to make their way into the ground and should be applied at least 6 months and in some cases as long as a complete growing season before seeding.

If you have a lot of weeds in your fields you will need to graze the pasture down, mow it close or use herbicide to eliminate those plants before seed.  Your local Extension or soil conservation district office can help you decide the best time and type of herbicide to use, different types of weeds are susceptible or resistant to different types of weeds.

This website has some good basic information

It is a good idea to give your pasture a one or two week resting period. The label on the herbicide will tell you when it is safe for you horses to be back on the field. This is one of the biggest barriers for most horse people … what to do with the horses while you are preparing the ground for seeding (a month at best) and then while you are allowing the young plants to grow (3-6 months for limited light grazing, 6-9 months for optimum grazing sustainability) depending upon whether  the pastures are seeded in  spring or late summer and upon growing conditions.

One way to deal with this question if you have more than one pasture is to simply seed one pasture at a time, as tempting as it is to “get it over with”! If you do this choose the pasture with the most fertile soil as your first project to maximize your success. Another way to deal with this challenge is to add a Heavy Use Area ( HUA) or sacrifice area to your property… more about that next week.

If you want a more comprehensive look at pasture management here’s a link to the entire University of Maine home course.


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Shelly Ingram

I am a third generation horsewoman; My father operated a 50 horse boarding and training facility in northern California, where he specialized in re-training spoiled horses. I was his demonstration rider and general assistant in all aspects of running the ranch. I went on to work for several major show and race horse trainers, eventually opening my own barn where I focused on Junior and Amateur riders. I have trained numerous champion horses and riders on all levels and in variety of disciplines. I have also worked as a journalist and have more than a decade of experience in land use planning.

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