I am a novice at dairy and generally livestock. We have 2 Kerry cows currently and are land hasn't had ruminants on it for a while and so our pasture aren't ideal. We have acres that could be restored. I am wondering what is the ideal practice to improve a pasture that consists mostly of twitchgrass but with some timothy and clover. Do you need to plow it or can you just cultivate it? What are all the steps needed if I wanted to introduce better grasses and more leguminous plants?
Pasture renovation with a plow will destroy root structure, reduce support for hooves, kill valuable earth worms, burn super valuable soil carbon, waste time and fuel and money, and is plain silly in all but extreme cases. A good mix of clovers appropriate for your area over seeded will work fine. You need to get your legumes to about 35-40% of forage mass. You can do this easily by using modern electric fence, making small breaks, and keeping forage fairly short and frost seeding, as well as overseeding before grazing each paddock. You must remember most clovers have from just under a million seeds per pound, to over a million depending on variety. A four or five variety clover mix broadcast at 2 or 3 pounds an acre at frost seeding, and another 1/8-1/4 pound one or two times a growing season will lay down an adequate seed bank in addition to what you have present. If you do intensive, small breaks and keep the canopy short for a restoration period grazing down to 4" of compressed height with a home made falling plate meter, and getting back on it before it is 9" tall, you can suppress your warm season grasses and significantly shift production to legumes. Improved varieties of medium red and medium white clovers can support some very impressive milk production. Keep a watchful eye on your root mass of tall grasses, as not too kill them, simply do this two or three times to stun them and let some other stuff get going, then let them grow up to fuller heights to recover. You can also use tall clovers like a low-coumarin tall sweet clover, Illinois bundle flower, or other tall legume to mix with a tall bunch grass for protein with a taller sward height.
It gets a lot more specific, depending on your management capabilities, temperature, soil and rainfall. Your cow's dry matter intakes, the moisture and maturity of the pasture, and access and distance to quality water will mean a great deal as well.
If you meant switch grass, which is a warm season grass, throwing out some cool season stuff like some of the high yielding, high quality Kentucky blue grasses from Barenbrug, http://www.barusa.com/forage/products/kentucky-bluegrass and an annual ryegrass for cool season production won't hurt anything. Again broad cast into standing sward immediately before a graze, let the cows tamp it in and ferti-gate with their natural byproducts!
Annual brassicas can give you great extension of grazing season and really improve soil tilth and water infiltration, as well as tying up nutrients so they don't run away during winter or early spring rains. I toss out a pound of each of daikon radish, purple top turnip, grazing kale, and swedes(rutabagas) in mid July into standing paddocks right before I graze. Often these are cool season grass paddocks that are going senescent and dormant, and I graze it down tight to allow the brassicas to take off and get some growth before fall flush fires the blue grass, orchard grass and fescues back up. Then stay off of these until mid to late fall and then strip graze and utilize well into winter!
You should subscribe to Allan Nation's Stockman Grass Farmer or Joel McNair's Graze Magazine and get some low cost education. They both have example articles on their websites.
Agree with Patrick on the species here - pick something adapted to your area for legumes and grasses.
As for HOW to seed it, broadcasting can work but often flops. A no-till drill in spring when there is still some rain but little freezing ups the seed changes a lot. If you do alfalfa, definitely the drill!
posted 2 years ago
Thank you for all the info! I just have a few clarifying questions. (really am a novice...)
What do you mean by "making small breaks?"
Is there any strategies to ensure better germination and growth if we are over-seeding by hand?
What is a falling plate meter?
When frost seeding when do you integrate livestock into that paddock? Or, if it rested for the season, how would you recommend controlling weed and other grasses' growth?
posted 2 years ago
Small breaks: Small sub-divisions allotting 8-12 hours worth of forage to maximize forage consumption and hoof impact
Broadcast into forage immediately before grazing to get tamp in effect of hooves, plus urine and manure. Use a handheld broadcast spreader to get even distribution
If frost seeding, try to seed late in winter when ground is freezing/thawing regularly. If doing small areas that don't require much labor, I will divide total seed needed into thirds and throw out seed every 7-10 days. It's weather, seed to soil contact, seed quality and a host of other factors that make it hit or miss. Just get on with it and keep at it!! Animal impact isn't necessary to frost seed, but I graze unless snow is too deep or ice is to hard/crusty. So some pasture has been winter grazed off, some is being grazed, and some it still standing stockpile. I over-seed a pound or two of clovers every winter in any stand that isn't at least 35% legumes by dry weight when I hand cut and weigh material during my grazing season spot checks pre-graze.