Timing of Pasture Planting

Hard as it is to believe if you are in the northeast right now, as Winter Storm Toby blows through or if you are getting soaked with rain on the West coast… but this week marked the first day of Spring.

With the turn of the seasons horse people start to come out of their rubber booted hibernation and as the mud begins to dry up thoughts turn to getting horses back out onto pastures and out of sacrifice , heavy use areas, and/or barns. Many people also want to use the Spring to renovate and reseed their pastures.

If you are using warm season grasses such as switchgrass, big bluestem or bermudagrass, eastern gamagrass, alfalfa, annual lespedeza, Spring is the best time to plant. This link provides some good information

https://store.extension.iastate.edu/…/Warm-Season-Grasses-for-Hay-and-Pasture-PDF

If you are using a mix of coolseason grasses the bad news is…Fall was your best seeding bet and you should wait for the coming Fall to seed. These species include tall fescue, orchardgrass, timothy, white clover. This article provides some good information about creating a good combination of grasses that will help to keep your pasture ground covered year round.

http://www.kfgc.org/PDF/kca_jch.PDF

And more bad news is …unless you are willing to keep your horses off of the newly seeded area for at least 3-4 months you are really just tossing money out into the wind. If you seed a pasture in April, when all that glorious sunshine ( or even that weak sunshine) starts to burst through you will need to plan for alternate pastures for your horses until at the very least the end of summer.

You may begin to see the small shoots of grass in at little as five days and will probably have what appears to be a healthy growth spurt at the end of a month but if you want to see your pasture really thicken and grow the horses need to be elsewhere until that grass reaches 6-8 inches high. The best approach is to mow the field to 6 inches and let it grow back to 8 or nine inches before you put any horses back on the field.

Believe me – I know that horses much prefer the short sweet little new spurts of growth… but our horses today are generally being turned out for their overall health and mental wellbeing not for the energy and weight gain value they can get from their fields. The soil and the horses will be much healthier if you can stop yourself from turning them onto the new growth.

One way to do this is to divide your pastures and seed only part of them in spring, letting the horses graze the part you have not seeded while allowing the seeded area to grow.  Patience is the best friend of any farmer and for your horse’s sake you should add ‘grass farmer’ to your resume. You can’t change nature’s schedule so learn to go with it.

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Shelly Ingram

I am a third generation horsewoman; My father operated a 50 horse boarding and training facility in northern California, where he specialized in re-training spoiled horses. I was his demonstration rider and general assistant in all aspects of running the ranch. I went on to work for several major show and race horse trainers, eventually opening my own barn where I focused on Junior and Amateur riders. I have trained numerous champion horses and riders on all levels and in variety of disciplines. I have also worked as a journalist and have more than a decade of experience in land use planning.

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