Summer is long over. For many of you who graze livestock or horses, the process of winterizing your animals has begun. Pasture grasses have gone dormant, and many animals have been pulled off pastures because of the lack of feed.
During the fall, many take a minute to think about their pastures and want to know how to improve the efficiency and yield of their forages for the next year. Here at the Extension office we have received many questions about how to improve forage yield and when is the best time to plant/re-plant forage grasses. To address this question I am going to be using some information that my predecessor, Clark Israelsen, provided in an article last year.
Here at the Extension office we have many resources available to help with pasture planting and management. The most common reference we use is the Intermountain Planting Guide that was published by the USDA-ARS Forage and Range Research Lab, in conjunction with Utah State University Extension.
The Intermountain Planting Guide is a great resource for growers with large acreage or those who are serious about increasing pasture yield. It contains information about pasture management for both irrigated and dryland pastures. It also describes different types of pasture grasses and what the best environment is for each of these grasses.
The Small Pasture Management Guide is another great resource to help those of you who may be on smaller farms (1-5 acres). Both publications can be purchased here at the Cache County Extension office.
For many of you who have questions about when to plant your pasture grass, the answer is: it depends. Let’s get into the details so we can better understand that answer.
In all reality it all comes down to your pasture environment. Is your pasture irrigated? What kind of soils are in your pasture? Do you fertilize? Is your pasture in a rangeland setting?
Before we can get anywhere in determining when to plant, it is important that you know and understand your own pasture. In an irrigated setting, spring is often the optimum season to establish pasture grasses. The spring’s lower temperatures, high humidity and excellent soil moisture make for excellent pasture grass germinating conditions. Although, an extra abundance in soil moisture can cause delayed growth and seedling emergence until the hotter, drier time of the year, when frequent irrigations will be required.
Fall plantings are the other option for irrigated pasture grasses. In the Intermountain West, the most successful time to plant is from late August to mid-September. In Cache Valley, we have good success planting until the end of September. The cool temperatures, increasing humidity and decreasing wind help create a great opportunity for plant establishment.
Plants should be about 2-3 inches in height before the first frost. Plants that do not reach this height are at a higher risk for winterkill because of poorly developed root systems. Most small grasses will require six weeks of growth prior to cold weather to ensure a developed root system.
For those of you who have dryland (no irrigation) or rangeland pastures, dormant seedings are recommended. Dormant seedings are made in the late fall to delay germination until the following spring. Dormant seedings allow for young seedlings to take advantage of cooler temperatures and moisture that comes from winter snowfall.
Success has been found in planting as late as December, as long as the ground is not frozen. Seeding in early fall on dryland or rangeland pastures can be a little risky since germination does not occur soon enough to allow for proper root development before winter.
Proper pasture grass seeding can help to improve overall forage yield and quality. Although, seeding is just one of many pasture management techniques that can be used to help increase pasture quality.
If you have any questions or are interested in learning more about pasture management, don’t be afraid to send me an email, give me a call, or drop in for a visit. I would love to talk with you.
Jacob Hadfield is the USU Extension specialist for agriculture covering Cache County, appointed in July, 2019. His office is located in the County Administration Building, 179 N. Main Street, Suite 111, in Logan. He can be reached directly at (435)752-6263 ext. 1574 or email@example.com.