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University of Minnesota Extension

Extension > Agriculture > Livestock > Dairy > Grazing systems > Knee deep in grass: A survey of twenty-nine grazing operations in Minnesota > Pasture development

Pasture development

Brian Loeffler, Helene Murray, Dennis G. Johnson, Earl I. Fuller
Reviewed 2008

Pastures were developed for MIG by improving pastures that had been continuously grazed, pasturing old hayland and directly converting cropland to pasture. All farms but two that have grazed intensively for over 20 years have used one or more processes to develop their pastures.

Existing pastures

Eleven farmers said that they had improved existing pastures or were in the process of doing so. Forage species were altered by using frost seeding, managed grazing and no-till drills to introduce or select for desired plant species. Graziers noted that Kentucky bluegrass and white clover were overwhelmingly the predominant species present in their pastures while grazing continuously. Since adopting MIG, all of the 11 reported that species diversification has increased both with and without overseeding pastures. Many stated that red clover is now a predominant species along with Kentucky bluegrass and white clover. Respondents indicated that red clover, orchardgrass, timothy, smooth bromegrass, birdsfoot trefoil, reed canarygrass, Kentucky bluegrass and white clover presently are or are expected to be the desired species in their renovated pastures.

Converting hayland

Twelve farmers reported developing pasture from land previously used for hay production. Managed grazing and reliance on the natural seed bank for species diversification was the norm. However, frost seeding and no-till drills were occasionally used. Desired forage species included red clover, alsike clover, ladino clover, birdsfoot trefoil, orchardgrass, smooth bromegrass, reed canarygrass, timothy and quackgrass (see section on other forage species below for more information on quackgrass). Pastures developed from hayland had higher occurrences of quackgrass along with understandably higher occurrences of alfalfa than those developed from existing pasture or cropland. Red clover, orchardgrass and alfalfa were predominant in the converted hayland pastures. However, forage species varied depending upon frost seeding levels and alfalfa stand density.

Converting cropland

Fifteen farmers had converted cropland to pasture. Seeding after tillage was the most common method of establishing pasture. One farmer did not seed or till, relying exclusively on the natural seed bank for establishment. Nurse crops of oats and perennial or annual ryegrasses often accompanied seedings. Planted and desired species were the same as those listed as desirable above. Predominant species usually included red clover, orchardgrass, timothy and smooth bromegrass.

Other forage species

Pasture mixes, albeit somewhat different species and proportions, were used by most graziers. Desired species not found in commercially available mixtures were added individually. Forage species seeded and not recognized earlier as common species include tall fescue, puna chicory and sweet clover.

Several graziers indicated that they liked quackgrass as a pasture forage. One grazier said, "Despite its classification as a noxious weed, I often encouraged its establishment because it is durable and has high RFVs and CP levels." A few graziers reported adding it to their pasture mixes.

Methods of changing forage species

Frostseeding was commonly used by graziers to introduce red clover into existing pastures and old hayland. Orchardgrass, as well as other grasses and legumes, were occasionally frostseeded. Seeding was accomplished by dispersing seeds on the soil surface or sometimes on the last of the snow. Many graziers indicated that they usually begin to frostseed at the end of March. Soil-to-seed contact was made by the freezing and thawing actions of the soil. According to several graziers, frostseeding appeared very effective in establishing red clover.

Grazing was often managed to encourage or discourage the growth of specific forage species. Graziers said that by knowing the growth and regrowth characteristics of forage species they were able to change the density of many species. This was most commonly done to rid pastures of undesired species. A few graziers reported using no-till drills to introduce grass species in existing pastures and old hayland. No-till drills were typically rented from agencies such as the Soil Conservation Service. Reported effectiveness was mixed. Some graziers were very pleased with the results; others were not. Conventional drills were commonly used to seed cropland being directly converted to pasture.

Establishment of birdsfoot trefoil was challenging for most graziers interviewed. Some graziers fed birdsfoot trefoil seed in mineral or concentrate supplements to encourage seed dispersion. It was also felt that the manure would stimulate germination and provide some protection from grazing because cattle usually avoid manured areas for a short length of time.

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