View Full Version : Best way to reclaim old pasture?
Jun. 21, 2010, 10:51 PM
We've recently purchased a house with a barn and 6 acres. The goal is to have a horse (or two) by next summer. We have started to mow the pasture, which is very over grown-waist high. There are some spots that have nice grazing. Others, not so much. It's like old straw (?) on top of weeds. What's a good, low cost way, to improve the pasture? Just keep it mowed this year, into the fall? Then hit it again next spring?
Jun. 21, 2010, 10:57 PM
I have mowed mine, spread lime in the spring and overseeded (I guess you would call it) with different grass and pasture mixes, just by hand. It has gotten better every year.
Jun. 21, 2010, 11:15 PM
I second seeding it and keep it mowed.
Jun. 22, 2010, 12:43 AM
even just mowing regularly does wonders. As long as there is reasonably good grass, it wants to take over, you just have to keep the other crap mown, to allow it to. If there is not a decent base of desireable grass, than overseed. Your local Farm Service office is a great resource, they'd probably come out and give you advice.
We bought a place with 20+ acres of chest-high weeds and within 2years of just mowing, every inch of it became productive grazing or haying grounds. We do need to renovate and reseed some sections by now, but really, mowing is an amazing, low-tech tool.
Jun. 22, 2010, 07:58 AM
Contact your county agent to have the soil tested. At the very least it probably needs lime(or at least if you were around here it would)
Jun. 23, 2010, 07:21 PM
Spray for weeds. Getting them out of the way will enable the "grass" to really grow.
Have the soil tested so you know if you need to add lime, nitrogen, what to fertilize with.
Then finally seed with the type of "grass" you want to establish.
Jun. 23, 2010, 10:03 PM
I drag after mowing, especially the long grasses. Drag will aid in getting the cut and fallen grass tops moved some to expose the new growth. Mowing often, then dragging with my chain drag (with tires tied on the top to hold chain teeth down on the ground) is very helpful. Each mowing you are cutting up the old stuff laying, just keeping the new leaves trimmed a little bit which encourages root growth instead of height. I mow with a 8N and bush hog.
My chain drag kind of "combs" the grasses, loosening, lifting and moving the cut growth. Exposes the new growth to the sun. If what you cut down is long and heavy, chain drag may roll up the dead stuff into piles or lumps around the pasture. I usually just leave the lumps, next mowing will blow apart the lumps, shredding the grass pile even further. And then you drag again.
I can't think of anything better than mowing often, then dragging, to get your grass looking nice in short order. With the rain we have lately, I am mowing all my fields weekly!! If you let grass get tall, it goes to seed and quits growing. That is the goal of all grass, to set seed and go dormant. Mowing often, not too short, prevents seed, so grass keeps growing all summer. I try to cut when grass is 8 inches tall, shorten to 5 inches, then drag. With the rain, grass is growing fast and sometimes gets ahead of me and the animals! So weekly mowing is needed to prevent seed development.
Leaving the cut stuff on fields, as long as bush hog/mower doesn't choke, is beneficial to the grass plants as a fertilizer and protection. The finely cut stuff holds moisture on the roots like mulch does, sun protection for roots, breaking down over the season. A season of grass cuttings is like a free fertilizer application to the field!
I second getting soil tests, perhaps one for each field, to get the proper nutrients needed for growing pasture. A high field may need quite different minerals than the bottom field where everything drains down into it. You want to buy what that field needs, not a generic mix that wastes nutrients field doesn't need and your money. Lime is a great mineral, but sometimes field needs other minerals to let the lime do it's job. Spring and fall fertilizer applications are both good, just check that rain is coming to disolve the fertilizer pretty soon after you spread it.
For planting grass seed, buy locally so the seeds work in your area. I would not buy a National brand, which has been developed to work in other places. Some seed types just don't work for your location! Could be the dirt, could be the lumin quantity in your sunshine. Have to say Buffalo Grass WON'T grow in Michigan, not enough sunlight. My feed elevator was very helpful in finding grasses for my area, developed by Michigan State for mares and foals. Great seed, very fertile, and NOT cheap. No fescue in it, nor high percentages of "unknown matter" on the label.
A seed mix is usually best, so hot and cold season grasses each get a turn in weather that suits them best. You get all-season grazing! Read labels closely to know what is inside the mix. Don't buy cheap annual seed that will need reseeding next year. I avoid fescues because we have foals now and again. Fescues can cause problems with bred mares. However in some areas fescues are all that will grow, so you have to work around that with your bred mares.
I disc lightly to create slices in my pasture grass turf, then seed with a drop spreader by walking it around. I have had no luck with broadcast seeding, just wasted my time and money for seed that doesn't grow. With the slices, I walk over them dropping seed inside. Yeah that is more work, but not wasting the seed which costs a mint! After seeding, I drag the field again with my weighted chain drag to cover the seed. Does seem to work pretty well, I can see new growth filling in, along with seeds in the disc rows. Disc is also helpful in opening the dirt, letting water and air into the soil when turf or growth is heavy. Horses running about will compact dirt, so the discing is helpful in aerating the soil to aid growth of roots.
Like gardening, you have to cut and divide so plants stay healty and grow well. Cut your grass high and mow often. You will be happy with the results by the end of the season.
Jun. 25, 2010, 09:12 AM
Now is a good time to get the soil tested, so you know what type and how much fertilizer and/or lime (if any) you will need to put down in the fall to give you a boost on next year's grass.
Keep mowing, mowing, mowing. Spray for broadleaf weeds now, again in the fall, and again in the spring. (2,4-D is perfect)
After you get the soil test back and make the corrections, consider seeding if the grass is really pitiful, but with a summer's worth of work and weed control, with soil that has been optimized, you might be surprised at how the good grasses will rally in the spring. :)
Jun. 25, 2010, 10:33 AM
1) Soil test: Contact the extention office where the place is, collect samples from all over the pasture, mix and deliver. Nitrogen content changes in the heat though.
2)identify the weeds. Some are desirable grazing, some are not.
scratching the surface with a drag will probably not hurt....nor overseeding
Jun. 25, 2010, 10:46 AM
Totally agree with all the above, especially mowing and soil testing. Give it a full growing season, then if it needs any seeding, check with local soil and water conservation agency. These are federal and state funded, county or region based offices that often have no-till seeders available. A no-till seeder conserves soil since you are not majorly disturbing soil by cultivating before seeding. Our area rents one free with a refundable deposit.
Jun. 25, 2010, 12:50 PM
Decide now if you are going to try to use the pasture as a main source of food for your horses, or whether it's just a nice area for them to go get turnout. If the former, read up on pasture rotation and I recommend plowing your fields under right now (find a local farmer with the right equipment) and starting from scratch by reseeding it. If you don't have a horse yet, that is perfect- you will have a whole year for it to rest and get established.
If you don't want the hassle of pasture rotation (and it can be extra work, plus you will need a sacrifice area for when it's wet), then I would just do as everyone here suggests and mow/ weed/ fertilize for now and understand that once you put horses on it, whatever pasture quality you've regained will go siginficantly downhill if you don't have good pasture management practices in place.
Jun. 25, 2010, 06:34 PM
If you have tight fencing that can reliably keep out dogs and coyotes (so, some sort of wire mesh or 6 strands of electric at a minimum), sheep are great for this kind of stuff. They will preferentially seek out weeds. My sheep pasture looks like a golf course.
But you MUST be able to protect them from predators.
Jun. 27, 2010, 04:49 PM
1. Mow frequently, don't let weeds go to seed.
2. Soil test
3. In September (in my zone, adjust yours according to where you are) DRILL (don't overseed) fine grasses according to your farm extension agent.
4. In September (NOT IN THE SPRING) fertilize according to soil test. You can lime any time.
Jun. 27, 2010, 08:52 PM
I was going to drill in pasture seed, instead of doing the walking seeder mentioned above. When I called about using the No-till drill the Extension Office rents, they said fields need to be sprayed to kill everything BEFORE seeding. They did NOT want us using the drill in pasture with turf on it.
This came as a big surprise to me, since I thought No-till drill DID work in a pasture setting, went thru turf in drilling and would save a lot of my personal time in getting seed placed well to improve our pastures.
So words of warning, about No-till drill. Maybe there are other models that CAN seed in established pasture without killing off the turf beforehand. Not the local drill, so I didn't get the pasture seeded this spring.
In our northern climates, fertilizing is useful when done both spring or summer. You would want to do mid-September about the latest, so pastures can still grow some length before winter. Fall is sometimes easier to do because fertilizer wagons are more available than with Spring planting needs. I have done both seasons, depending on MY work schedule and time available. Pastures look great either way.
Jun. 28, 2010, 07:52 PM
I think it depends on your area and the climate you live in.
We have essentially done what you are trying to do, although our pasture wasn't overgrown - it was just grazed down to nothing.
We did have our soil tested and do need to lime, but had a really hard time finding someone to do it. In the meantime (ahem...5 years ago :rolleyes: ) we just mowed, dragged, overseeded and rolled. Usually just mowing & overseeding. And we put horses on it immediately.
It's amazing how much it has improved with very little effort. In fact, pretty much every horse I've ever had on pasture has gotten fat, so I haven't wanted to do too much to make the pasture *better*.
Weed control is the most important thing. Hand pull, hand mow, brush hog, spray, whatever you want (or all of the above), but that's what really will take over the pasture instead of grass if you aren't careful.