ST. CLOUD, Minn. — April is here and it’s time to start thinking spring! While a lot of the focus is on spring planting in the fields, it’s also time to think about pastures. Spring is a critical time to prepare pastures for the summer grazing season.
Did you miss your chance to seed pastures in the fall? Don’t worry, you can still do it in spring! Spring isn’t quite as ideal, since animals should be kept off the pasture until the new seeding has had time to establish and has been mowed a couple times, but it’s still possible. A recommendation from the University of Minnesota is to spring seed between April 1st and May 15th. Since the ground is still frozen, farmers also have the option to frost seed this spring.
Frost seeding is the practice of broadcasting forage seed in the early spring when the ground freezes at night and thaws during the day. The best practice is to seed early in the spring after snow melt but while the ground is still frozen. The repeated freezing and thawing of the ground will cause soil cracks, and the idea is seed will fall into those soil cracks and germinate. The main advantage to frost seeding is the ability to establish desirable species at a low per acre cost. Multiple resources from Cooperative Extension and the USDA recommend using species that germinate in cold weather. These species include red and white clover, birdsfoot trefoil, perennial ryegrass, orchardgrass, and smooth bromegrass. It is NOT recommended to use timothy or reed canarygrass.
Besides seeding pastures, there are several other steps to take to prepare pastures in the spring. Something that should be done yearly is soil testing. Testing soil is an easy and inexpensive way to ensure best management of your pasture. Soil samples can be taken when soils are thawed and dry. When you have your soil test results, you can make informed decisions about fertilizer options. Fertilizer recommendations are available from the University of Minnesota. You can search online for “University of Minnesota pasture fertilizer” or call the Extension office for recommendations and best management practices.
Another aspect of managing pastures and preparing for the grazing season is weed control. Spring is a good time to spray herbicide for annual weeds, as it can limit weed establishment. When spraying herbicides in the spring or any time during the grazing season, be sure to keep grazing restrictions in mind. In addition to spraying for weeds, mowing is also a great way to control weeds, especially in low density areas. Pastures require regular mowing anyways, so keeping up with that schedule should provide sufficient weed control. When weeds are dense and you notice early establishment, chemical control may be more effective.
In preparation for the grazing season, it is also a good idea to check your pasture for maintenance needs. Walk fence lines and check for areas that need repair or reinforcement. Clean up trash and clear away downed trees or other brush impeding access. Check for hazards like debris from broken fences, or anything that could have blown in during the winter. Walking pastures also helps you determine areas that need seeding or may need more time to green up before being grazed.
Lastly, prepare for the grazing season by planning for it. Determine your grazing system and special strategies you’d like to use. If you are trying rotational grazing for the first time, figure out where paddocks will be, get your moveable fencing in place, and create a schedule. Think about the last grazing season and the observations you made then. Poorly growing areas, overgrazed areas, and sacrifice areas should all be noted. Plan how those areas can be managed differently–or the same–to avoid any issues.
Spring has sprung–whether the weather admits it or not–and it’s time to start preparing for another grazing season. Seed pastures, test soil, manage weeds, and clean pastures now for a successful grazing season all summer long.
— Emily Krekelberg, University of Minnesota Extension
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