Pasture

Whether you’re going to graze them or put up hay, now’s the time to consider a face-lift for your pastures.

In all the excitement over spring row-crop tillage and planting, we might well overlook other areas that are greening up quickly.

I’m not talking about that area outside the house, although our lawns could use some attention after the winter months. Mine is certainly in desperate need of aeration, some fertilizer, weed control and a sure-fire way to get rid of moles. But that’s another story,

Actually, I’m talking about pastures. Whether you’re going to graze them or put up hay, now’s the time to consider a face-lift for your pastures. After all, healthier grasses and legumes lead to increased pasture productivity. That’s all about improved nutritional values for grazing animals and better quality hay bales to feed or sell.

In reality, pasture renovation should have started last fall with some weed control measures and, possibly, fertilizer application. It’s something to think about for this coming fall.

But it’s spring, and my pasture area is a lot like my lawn. The soil needs aeration. After years of mowing, cattle grazing and even heavy rains, the pasture ground has become compacted, squeezing out air and water and stressing plant growth.

There are many options for aerating lawns, including walk-behind machines and trailed aerators that can be pulled by garden tractors, ATVs or compact tractors.

Agricultural equipment is similar, although quite a bit larger, heavier and sturdier. I’ve seen one manufacturer’s drum aerator model weigh in at 7,500 pounds and cover 33 feet in one pass. Of course, there are plenty of other models, sizes, weights and widths out there — not to mention prices.

If you’re not using an aerator over a lot of acreage or season after season, you might consider renting a unit.

No-till drills for overseeding can also be rented. One of our local Soil and Water Conservation District offices has a John Deere 1,590 15-ft. no-till drill they rent out for $10 per acre. That might not be as convenient as buying one and having it on-hand. But, based on how little I’d use it year to year, it’s worth a little planning ahead.

Of course, before seeding a pasture, you’ll need to graze or cut the pasture as short as possible, giving seed the best opportunity to come in contact with the soil. More than likely, you already have a rotary cutter for this chore.

If not, there are plenty of manufacturers offering a variety of models, sizes and pricing.

While we’re all extremely interested in the price of a machine, my experience has taught me not to cut corners on quality. Cutting rough pasture ground is not as easy as mowing a lawn. And replacing spindles, gearboxes and blades on a cheaply made rotary cutter can add up quickly.

You might also consider a flail mower. They’ll cut a bit finer than a rotary cutter. They’re also quieter, less bulky, attach closer to the tractor for better maneuverability, and can cut anything a rotary mower can.

On the other hand, flail mowers are more complex than rotary cutters and require more maintenance. Since they’re not as common, parts availability might be an issue, as well.

Once the pasture ground has been prepped and overseeded, run a cultipacker over the soil to get the most seed to soil contact.

Doing a little online research, I found a great number of plans for building cultipackers out of drain pipe, cement and rebar. New and used culitpackers are plentiful and not at all cost-prohibitive.

Finally, put down some fertilizer after the seedlings emerge. Timing here is important. Fertilizing too early provides nutrients for the established plants to use, which may lead to a growth spurt and competition with emerging seedlings.

Pasture maintenance or renovation may not be the No. 1 thing on your mind this spring. However, for a solid hay crop and great nutrition for grazing animals, it should be in the top 10 — along with taking care of your lawn, of course.