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Legume frost seeding in pastures
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Legume frost seeding in pastures

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Pasture and Forage Minute

Interseeding legumes in early spring or through winter frost seeding can help supplement the yield loss experienced with cool-season pastures, like bromegrass. 

Are you looking to increase production from pastures or hay fields? Interseeding legumes might just work in your operation.

Nitrogen is one of the key ingredients for productive pastures. A way to get more nitrogen in a pasture is to plant legumes. Alfalfa, birdsfoot trefoil, clovers, and other legumes all fix atmospheric nitrogen and can reduce nitrogen costs. These legumes are also very high in forage quality.

Not all pastures are good candidates for adding legumes, however. First, legumes need adequate phosphorus and a pH usually above 6, and some prefer a pH closer to 7.

Next, good seed placement is needed. Frost seeding is one method, however, snow-free or very little snow is preferred. Frost seeding uses broadcasting seeding in winter to allow the natural freezing and thawing of the ground to plant the seed for you, resulting in good seed to soil contact. Frost seeding success can vary and while more invasive, drilling is almost always a better option if the pasture would allow it.

Lastly, heavy flash grazing several times in the spring will reduce the competition from existing grasses and help promote the legume seedlings. Once the grass is 3 to 4 inches taller than the seedlings, graze quickly until the grasses are grazed down to the height of the legume seedlings.

Legumes can help reduce fertilizer cost and create higher quality pastures and hay. Frost seeding is an economical approach that might work to establish legumes in your operation.

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"Many of us are worried that if the weather does turn cold suddenly (because this is Kansas and that happens at the drop of a hat) if the calves are very young and the weather is very cold, we could lose many of our calves."

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