FRANKLIN CO., Pa. — Winter is an excellent time to reflect on pasture management and devise an action plan for the coming season. Whether you want to improve your pastures or maintain their quality, there are multiple steps to take throughout the year to ensure that forage growth is sufficient for your operation.
A few pasture improvements can take place in the winter. Frost seeding can be a good option for fields grazed heavily or mowed towards the end of the growing season. Small seeded legumes such as clover or birdsfoot trefoil are good candidates for frost seeding. The winter patterns of soil thawing and freezing creates nooks and crannies on the soil surface that can be infiltrated by dropped seed; over time this action works seed down into the soil. Seed to soil contact is critical and can be increased with the use of a drag chain or very light disking when needed. Grass seeds tend to be very light and often include a structure called an awn (a small bristle), both qualities generally make grass a poor candidate for frost seeding.
We have had a relatively mild winter thus far in Franklin county and the warmer temperatures have been conducive to winter soil testing; soil testing can be accomplished any time that the ground is not frozen. It is recommended that producers soil test at least once every three years. Testing kits are available at the Penn State Extension Office in Franklin County, and each contains instructions for taking representative samples from each pasture. Your soil test will return recommendations for liming and fertility considerations for the upcoming growing season. Proper soil pH and fertility will maximize desirable growth and minimize competition from weed species.
Liming soil can also be accomplished in the winter. Frozen ground can help minimize compaction from equipment; however, you will want to avoid spreading lime on pastures that may be heavily impacted by winter rains or snow melts. Primarily, these are sloping fields. The cycle of freezing and thawing that assist us with frost seeding also helps us incorporate lime into our pasture systems. Take care to ensure that limestone is spread evenly, as some dumped piles can freeze and cause uneven spreading. Consider that limestone slowly changes the pH of our soils over time so be sure to plan ahead to maintain regular liming if needed.
Other pasture management tactics, particularly renovation or reestablishment, can take multiple years of effort to accomplish and maintain. During winter, we recommend pulling up a map of your property and considering any notes from the previous growing season. Are there any changes that can make your system more efficient?
Decide upon projects for the upcoming year and price out potential expenses. Source materials for reseeding, weed management, and any changes to fencing systems. Contact local experts and agencies for technical assistance with pasture design and engineering projects. Your local Extension educators are happy to take any questions related to pasture production. Interested parties can learn more at an upcoming Pasture Workshop to be held at 185 Franklin Farm Lane, Chambersburg, PA 17202 from 10 AM to 2:30 PM on April 1, 2020. This event is free and includes a hot lunch. Reservations are required and can be made by calling 1-877-345-0691 or online at https://extension.psu.edu/pasture-workshops.
–Brittany Clark, Penn State Extension
Field & Forage Crops Educator
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