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grass for multi-purpose pasture

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  • grass for multi-purpose pasture

    I'm ploughing and re-seeding a pasture soon - I want good forage there, but will also be doing a good bit of riding in it (at least that's the plan.) Anyone have suggestions as to a tough grass that's particularly tenacious as turf but is also a good pasture grass? Would you suggest a blend?

    Also, I'm in northeast TN (considering the climate factor.)
    Blog: The Continuing Adventures of an (ahem) Mature Re-Rider without a Trust Fund...but, finally, A Farm of Her Own!!

  • #2
    Have you gotten your soil test done yet? Growing things well, requires a soil test so you KNOW you have provided the nutrients for best growth. You CANNOT guess things are fine for PASTURE, if you don't soil test, put on what is needed. You are wasting growing time and your money for seed, if you don't get a soil test, fertilize according to what the test says you need there.

    Is there a particular reason you will be plowing the field? Will you spray and kill everything on the ground presently growing?

    If you have a large enough tractor, you might be able to rent or borrow a no-till seeder, save tearing up the ground and erosion, with not plowing. Our County Extension Dept has a no-till grass seeder they rent, but tractor needs to be fairly good sized to power it. And they recommend spraying the field first, remove all growth before seeding.

    I got our fields going again with just discing them to cut up the ground, leave the good plants growing. I mixed grass seed in with my fertilizer and spread them both at the same time, then dragged the chain harrow over everything to cover the seed. I will be the first to say that not all the seed grew, but it improved quite a bit over the big dirt spots we had. You could do spot spraying in your fields if there are locations of problem plants, let them die, then disc and spread seed.

    I only have a small tractor, so plowing our heavy ground was not really an option for me. However the DISC really does a good job cutting up dirt, and if you weight it down, it does a BETTER job. My disc is about 4'x5', small. I put old tires on top, easy to tie on, easy to handle one at a time, but heavy added together to keep the disc digging in the packed clay dirt. The blades cut down to open the packed dirt, cut heavy plant roots in slices. And by covering the ground twice, once each way in a grid fashion, does a pretty nice job of working up the soil for seeding and fertilizing. I only did this one time, when first improving the pastures.

    Each year now, I disc in one direction of the field, then spread the fertilizer, spot seed any bare places with a hand push drop-seeder to get seed EXACTLY where I want it, and finally drag the whole field with the chain harrow with tires on it to hold it down to the ground. I do teeth down so they tear up old grass laying down, spread any manure piles, open the soil a bit, levels the ground, covers the seed and fertilizer. Then I keep the horses off to get the seed started, fertilizer to get worked down to the plants, dirt settled in rain showers and firmly in place again.

    Benefits to me are that this takes less time and fuel, gets air down into the soil packed from horses going over it, so plants and microbial things have needed oxygen to grow well. The sliced grass plants spread better, seed is used only where it is needed. Birds don't get to eat much of seed, especially at the price it costs! My pastures now spring right into full on growth, and you truly can't tell I did any field work in about 2 weeks. No ruts or furrows, bald places are filling in, hoofprints are gone, horse trails in grass are gone too. Very lawn-like.

    Horses are not allowed on because the grass and ground is real wet so no hoof prints wanted yet. They are diligently hunting each blade of grass sprouting in the sacrafice field, still on the winter hay diet.

    We get a LOT of rain most spring seasons, so I may need to mow those fields a couple times before horses get acclimated to full turn out on grass. Takes us about 5 weeks of slowly increased time grazing, to get horse bodies adapted back to grass diets. Takes that long to develop the needed digestive things in their gut, different from what was needed for winter hay feeding. Horse body is not shocked with heavy load of grass, can't digest grass now, as happens with sudden diet changes. Shock to the body is when grass founder, laminitus happens, with sudden turnout on the field and unlimited grazing.

    Mine get their hay breakfast, before getting grass time. Full stomach helps prevent overloading on new grasses. I am REALLY hard, so 15 minutes grazing is ONLY 15 minutes!! They get rounded up and back to the sacrifice pasture when time is up. Only takes a day or two, they know when I come out that time is up, go easily along to get off the grass. They get about 4 days at 15 minutes, then 4 days at 30 minutes, then I do 5 day times when I increase each grazing session. They can put away a LOT of grass, so hay first is important, and exact timing has worked well for me.

    Mowing is actually helpful, making plant put growth into roots and not tops. You WANT the big root spread, DEEP roots, so your grasses on pasture are holding dirt, reaching available moisture down in the ground when you may not have heavy rains to keep things going. Cutting grass clumps will actually increase the growing vigor, so plants will improve growth.

    Buy seed produced to grow in YOUR area, and I would buy a mixed seed. Various plants do better in certain temps, daylight hours, wet or dry seasons. With the mixed seeds, you should have SOMETHING growing all season long. Bluegrasses like it colder, while other grasses like heat and long days. Some white clover helps the soil, puts down EXTREMELY deep roots, so it grows even in the dry times. Mowing mine, keeps it from getting the nasty organisms that grow in damp, shady clovers. Short clover dries quick, so mine don't get the slobbers, and I consider small white clover a good food. Seed from my area would be planned to do well in extreme cold, not needed for your area, would fail in your high heat of summer. Read the seed labels, get perennial seeds for long-term growth.

    Mowing often is your 2nd best tool after proper soil preparation, for good pasture. You mow when grass is 8-10 inches, before seeds can set, no shorter than 5 inches. Mowing high protects the plant roots from sunburn, leaves are long enough to feed the plants and not shocked from severe shortening of very long leaves. Shocked plants don't grow quickly, have to recover, THEN get back to growing. Could be a week or two. More leaf cover also protects soil from rain beating down, erosion, horses will graze the fields more evenly because there is new growth ALL OVER, not just the bald spots. Letting seeds grow and dry, puts plants into dormancy, they quit working for the rest of the season. Cutting keeps plants HOPING to grow seed before fall, so they keep the growth coming to graze on.

    You probably will want to fertilize the pasture yearly, work it up lightly with the disc and reseed any bald places, get the ground leveled off again for the new summer with a drag. You can fertilize in the fall, if spring is a hard time to get the job done. I would still cut the ground with the disc lightly, fertilizer may not wash away as easily after dragging, when the rains come. I try to watch my weather, get any fertilizing done before a rain, so the plants don't get burned. I don't use urea in the horse pastures, know a couple horses that foundered after fields were fertilized with urea. There are substitutes that are about equal in cost, do the same job in your fertilizer mix and safer for the equines.

    Good pastures, TOUGH pastures you can use, take a time commitment to develop. May take a year or two developing the deep rooting in plants, which makes them better producers, survivors in heat, cold, under running horses.


    • Original Poster

      Yeah, I am ploughing because this field was a garden for years, and they never tilled properly, so there are old garden rows (ruts) still in there. Not visible under good grass cover when I bought it, but as it was grazed down it became an issue to ride on. We did a test plough area and it fixed it.
      Blog: The Continuing Adventures of an (ahem) Mature Re-Rider without a Trust Fund...but, finally, A Farm of Her Own!!


      • #4
        I'm in NE TN and the answer is likely going to be Tall Fescue. It can be grazed to dirt and recover. It stand up very well to riding. If you're going to run brood stock you'll have to keep them off it for at least part of the year. You can manage the endophyte problem by proper mowing.

        The other alternative is to talk to you county extension agent and see what will work for your specific place. They will make a site visit if you ask and there's no charge for the service.

        Some agents are pretty much "cattle" guys and don't know all that much about equine needs. There are specialists in Nashville, however, that know quite a bit. There's also expertise available at UT Knoxville (Dr. Gary Bates being one very well qualified expert; and a very funny guy ).

        Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raça, Uma Paixão


        • #5
          Since you won't be able to keep fescue out of it, go ahead and plant that. The "infected" stuff is highly tolerant of drought and traffic.

          Not much else in that area will be good for traffic, at least in the long term, but it would be a good idea to plant some other grasses for the grazing part. If Orchardgrass grows well enough there, get the Persist variety (or there's another longer-lived variety too, can't remember its name) and mix that in. Having a variety to graze is a good thing.
          The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET


          • #6
            I agree with JB, fescue is the way to go. Best bang for the buck also. But only if you will not be grazing mares on it. I don’t care what time of year. There are some very good “pasture mix” to be had at a reasonable price. But make sure it is heavy on fescue and other varieties that suit your climate. IMO Bluegrass and Orchard would not be suited for TN. Heck it is not even that great for KY due to its hot dry summers and relatively low top soil. Goodhors gives some good details on how to prep. Though I strongly recommend aerating before and periodically there after. A disc works but IMO an aerator works better. Especially with a “multi-purpose” pasture.
            The fact that you state “multi-purpose” means you don’t have a lot of acreage to work with. So you might as well except the fact it is going to be a constant struggle to get it and or keep they way you want it. Especially if you can not give it around a year to establish before putting horses on it. Remember the more you mow the more it grows and it will establishes a good root system. Never let it get so long that weeds can go to seed.
            If you go the “dig up, broad cast seed and drag” way it is very important to make sure the seed is not to deep, ¼ to a ½ at most. And it is VERY important to roll it after seeding and dragging. The seed has to make good “contact” with the ground. Other wise a good % will not germinate and or will die back. This is fact not my opinion. If you live in an AG area most of the equipment needed can be rented. Even the tractor.

            No disrespect to Goodhors but I don’t agree with the need for slow introduction to spring grass. Horses fended for themselves long before people built barns and or fenced off land. Yes, our horses get “loose” in the spring but I can’t remember when we had a case of colic, grass or not. And we look after around 40-50 Tbs in any given year of different ages. But then none of ours are ever “pampered” so to speak. But well looked after. They are horses after all.


            • #7
              I will have to *agree* with goodhors on the introduction

              Horses fended for themselves in the wild because the prairies and deserts were not chock full of high sugar grasses.

              Horses who have not had grass all Winter absolutely should be slowly introduced to grass, Spring or not. At best, nothing happens. Middle-best you get some diarrhea. Middle-worst you get colic. Worst you hit laminitis.

              Hedge your bets and aim for the best scenario with a careful introduction
              The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET