Over-seeding grasses and clovers into poor producing pastures and hay fields is not a new concept. With the recent weather challenges, it seems that producers are relying more and more on some sort of “rescue” over-seeding treatment to help them get through early spring. This process involves some risk and a little luck too – but it can be done and should be considered, especially across the many parts of the country that have recently experienced less than ideal growing conditions.
Whether out of necessity or just forward thinking, one basic strategy to improve the success of late winter over-seeding (or frost seeding) on pastured ground is to over-graze those areas where plantings will take place, usually in the previous fall. Intentional “grazing abuse” can provide openings in the existing sod and residue for new growth and clear a path for stronger and quicker emergence.
If over-seeding into pastures using a broadcaster, leaving livestock in the pasture for a few days after the over-seeding can help with seed incorporation. So long as the pasture is not too wet, hoof traffic will help the seed reach the desired depth for germination. Livestock should be removed from the pasture before new seedlings emerge. A “flash grazing” once existing growth reaches 8 to 12 inches in height is ideal – just so the new growth remains below the level of grazing. While there might be some new seedlings damaged with this approach, the few seedlings lost through this grazing are far less than the number of seedlings that would be lost to competition for light and moisture if the established forages were not grazed.
Frost seeding success can be enhanced when these additional steps are followed:
- Seed before frost leaves the soil structure – without the alternating freezing and thawing cycles, seed will not be incorporated properly
- Make sure soil fertility does not limit your chance for success. If your hay field or pasture has not been tested in the last couple of years, make every effort to soil test this coming spring when soil temperatures recover. Soil tests are affordable and are the building blocks to any successful forage plan.
- Do not necessarily use a Nitrogen source as a carrier to broadcast seed. Depending on the timing of the seeding, your existing forage stand will utilize those nutrients and keep your new investment from taking hold. It is better to augment these stands later, once the new seedlings are further established and/or clipped.
- Consider delaying manure applications where frost-seeding will take place. Some newly planted forage species may struggle from excessive minerals, salts and/or pH discrepancies caused by certain manure applications.
There are many different grass and legume species that should be considered for over-seeding. First and foremost, the type of livestock and the goal of the resulting forage should be key in decision-making. Many think of legume forages as an obvious candidate for winter seeding. Red clover is commonly used due to excellent seedling vigor, however white clovers, trefoil and alfalfa can also work. Alfalfa should not be used if the existing hay or pasture contains alfalfa, due to alfalfa autotoxicity. Below are some great options for introducing a legume this time of year:
- Forage First® FF 9615 3-Year Red Clover – an elite medium red clover variety that La Crosse Seed has used multiple years in its line-up. This variety has been tested throughout the Midwest and has shown superior forage yield potential, good quality, excellent stand persistence and good disease resistance (including anthracnose). FF 9615 is adapted to a wide geography and would work very well in both grazing and hay environments.
- Frosty Berseem Clover – this highly nutritious clover might take a little time to get started, but it works well in both perennial legume and grass stands (and is normally ready to graze or harvest in about eight weeks throughout most of the Midwest). It is non-bloating, and more saline tolerant than alfalfa or red clover. Frosty will not overwinter everywhere, but its improved winter tolerance greatly improves its flexibility.
When existing production fields are damaged and plans call for an early spring seeding, then cool-season grasses should be more widely considered. Generally, grasses that germinate quickly are best, however forage goals and expectations will guide what species are chosen. When there is still a partial stand to recover, there is little doubt that inter-seeding will pay-off in the short term and depending on management, could provide forage enhancement for many years to follow.
Grasshancer 200 is a new offering this year. A mixture of diploid and tetraploid Italian ryegrasses, this mix is recommended as a spring planting into weakened stands. The idea here is quality forage in a hurry. Ryegrasses germinate and establish quickly and provide excellent forage for beef cattle/heifers/dry cows and lactating animals as well.
Another option to consider for inter-seeding is festulolium. Festulolium is basically a hybrid of ryegrass and fescue. Early on, most festulolium options on the market included attributes of meadow fescue, but newer breeding efforts have delivered varieties that exhibit characteristics of tall fescue – arguably making them even more adapted to many parts of the Midwest. While some varieties display greater attributes of ryegrass, others provide results like fescue. Selecting the right festulolium is critical, depending on its use and environment.
Fojtan Festulolium is a new variety La Crosse Seed is excited about. It is the result of a cross between Italian ryegrass and tall fescue. The appearance of Fojtan is much like tall fescue and the two species share many properties – very high yield potential in combination with high persistence, drought resistance and tolerance to periodic flooding. Think the durability of tall fescue, with faster emergence and establishment. Festulolium is well-suited for both hay and grazing – and will work well when inter-seeded alongside alfalfa or struggling grass stands.