NORTH PLATTE, Neb. — Pastures and hay meadows provide higher quality feed, are more productive, and require fewer inputs when they have good forage legumes growing in them.
Outside of moisture, nitrogen is often the limiting nutrient in pasture production. While commercial fertilizer may be a quick and easy option, it’s costly. Instead, let’s grow our own N using legumes.
Do you have a pasture area or hay meadow that is relatively free of weeds and makes up no more than about 15 percent of your total pasture acres? If so, here is what I want you to do. From now until that grass will grow no more this year, I want you to graze that grass hard. Grub it down, then graze it some more. Maybe you’ve already accomplished this with the dry conditions this summer.
Now why would I recommend overgrazing? Surely it will hurt the grass. Well, that’s exactly what we want. Next spring, you will interseed legumes like red clover, white clover, and alfalfa into that grass to make it more nutritious and productive. We may even consider a winter frost seeding if conditions are right.
The biggest challenge to establishing legumes into a grass sod is competition by that existing grass on new, slow growing legume seedlings. Anything you do to reduce competition and slow down grass growth will help. Overgrazing this fall prior to next spring’s seeding will weaken the grass and slow its spring growth, thus giving new legume seedlings a better chance to get started.
And while you’re at it, also collect some soil samples. Then analyze them and apply any needed fertilizer. Legumes especially need good phosphorus and the proper soil pH.
So, add some legumes to your pasture next spring. Graze your grass this fall until virtually nothing is left. Then, keep grazing a couple weeks more just to make sure. Legumes you add next spring will establish better because of it.
— Ben Beckman, Nebraska Extension
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