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No Till Drill Seeding
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No Till Drill
Many horse owners look for the miracle seed that they can simply throw onto their existing pasture and POOF! . . . their pasture is green and beautiful. Let’s get real.There is no such thing as miracle seed.
Without proper planning and management, your pastures will not reach their potential. It is imperative to put together a plan for our pastures that includes soil tests, fertility, tillage or no-till, proper seed, planting, resting time, and management.
Soil testing is THE most important step in any pasturing program. Without the road map that a soil test will give us, we are simply shooting in the dark. We need to check and correct the pH and plan for the addition of any fertilizers that may be necessary. A soil test will measure soil acidity and the report will provide recommendations for the application of lime to neutralize soil acidity.
TILLAGE OR NO-TILL?
If your existing pasture has been invaded by weeds you don’t want or grass you hadn’t planned on, perhaps we need to consider tilling your soil and starting all over. A tractor-mounted rototiller or an aggressive disc will work just fine for this job. It is imperative to provide a well firmed seed bed for proper germination of the seed. Therefore, after tilling the soil, a cultipacker must be run over the bare ground to press most of the air from the soil (see diagram).
For the majority of us, there is no need to till the soil prior to seeding. You would be better served if you can find a local farmer or pasture management company that has access to a no-till seeder. The no-till seeder will open up the ground and properly drop the seed into your current stand at the proper soil depth. All you need to do is give your pasture the needed time to allow this new seeding to establish itself and you can release your animals.
The no-till approach will speed up the necessary establishment time compared to a tilled approach. A good resource in the Northeastern US is Improved Habitat ( www.improvedhabitat.com , firstname.lastname@example.org , or 570-745-3720).
It is important to find a seed mixture that is developed for horse pastures and specific to your region of the country. I do not recommend purchasing just any old pasture mix from the local feed store or tractor supply department store. Find a mixture that does not include high energy grasses such as tetraploid perennial ryegrasses or Italian ryegrass. If the counter person cannot help you in determining a safe mix for your horse, find another source for this seed. A quality seed that is readily available is Equinemaster Pasture Mix. Check out www.equinemaster.info for a dealer or distributor near you.
How about clover seed? I recommend adding 2 to 3 pounds of white clover to a pasture after the initial seeding year. The white clover does not attract the fungus that red clover does and therefore is safe if managed properly. White clover is able to pull Nitrogen from the air and make it available in the soil for both itself and the surrounding plants. Keep in mind that the reserves of the grass are at the bottom 2 to 4 inches while the reserves for the clover are at the soil or below. Therefore, do not overgraze a pasture, especially if clovers or alfalfas are present. The grasses will be shut down while legumes will take off, often taking over a stand.
If you have decided to go with conventional tillage and you have provided a well prepared seed bed you will need to use a method of planting that uniformly spreads your seed and packs it into the soil. One method is using a Brillion type seeder that has a cultipacker in front of the seed dispersal system and another behind. This assures your seed bed is well firmed and then will correctly press your seed into the soil.
If no-till is a better option for you, make sure your operator does not plant your seed any deeper than ¼ inch deep. Small seeds do not have enough resources to emerge from any deeper in the soil. If possible, ask your operator to criss-cross the pattern to assure that the spacing will fill in quicker. To do this, the operator will need to split the amount of seed in half and go over the pasture twice in opposite directions.
It is recommended that you give this new seeding adequate rest prior to introducing animals. Generally, I like to see this new pasture growth being mowed two to three times prior to allowing the animals to use it lightly. This allows the grass plants a chance to tiller and thicken up. During this process, the root structure will grow and produce a thick sod. A good method to test whether your horse should be released on a pasture is to take a big handful of grass and give it a good yank. If the roots do not lodge, it is safe. This process may take up to 8 weeks before it is safe to place your horse in the new pasture.
Now that your new seeding is established, it is time to manage you pasture. Make sure to follow the recommendations from your soil test for proper fertilization. To lower the chance for founder and other digestive disorders caused by high carbohydrates, allow your horses to graze this spring flush a couple of times before applying the initial 40-50 lbs of fertilizer. It is during this initial spring growth that the sugar content is at its greatest. Adding Nitrogen fertilizer to this new growth will only bring these levels higher.
Maintain your pastures in the 3 to 8 inch range to allow maximum sunlight penetration. If founder is an issue, allow the pasture growth to reach 10-12 inches. This will lower the amount of available sunlight and allow the grass to mature, thus lowering the amount of energy (sugars, carbohydrates) to the plant.
Never allow your horses to graze the pasture down below three inches!
Chris McCracken, a forage specialist for Barenbrug USA, has consulted equine enthusiasts across the United States with pasture management for many years. Chris is assisting Barenbrug USA with the development of their new educational based program named Equinemaster.