Renovate Pastures to Increase Production at Lower Costs
Renovating pastures by introducing legumes into an existing grass field without plowing is not new. It has been around in some sections of the USA for at least 50 years. In other areas, it has been used very little simply because farmers either do not know it’s advantages or know how to go about the process. So here goes!
Why put legumes into grass fields when commercial nitrogen in the form or ammonium nitrate is so accessible? Mainly it’s a matter of better animal performance. Livestock just ‘do-better’ on the mixture than they do on straight grass. Research has shown and farmers have proven that an 8-12 pound seeding rate of red clover costs about a dollar a pound and will produce as much forage as $50-$65 invested in nitrogen (ammonium nitrate @ $220 per ton @ 150-200 pounds of N per acre). Also when legumes are added to grass, the production distribution is better throughout the spring, summer and fall grazing months than grass alone.
Pasture renovation improves conception rates as well as cattle gains. In an Illinois study, it was found that cow conception rates on grass and legume pastures was 89% compared to 75% on straight grass. And, the calves from these mixed pastures weighed an average 50 pounds more at weaning.
Renovation also produces more milk. In a Tennessee study, milk production increased 6 pounds per day or 1,800 pounds in a 305 day lactation period when grazing a clover-grass mix versus grass and nitrogen.
A study by Purdue University researchers puts the entire picture together when it comes to the beef cow-calf herd. Over a three-year period using 100 cows, the renovated pastures produced 20 more calves each year. All of the calves in the herd on the clover-grass pastures weighed 85 pounds heavier than the matched calves on pastures with grass and nitrogen. When the 20 more calves saved are added to the increased weights for all of the calves, that’s an additional 15,000 pounds more beef. At a dollar a pound for stockers today, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that’s $15000 more gross income from that 100 cow herd for a seed cost of $10-$12.
Renovating Grass Fields with Red Clover
Seeding clovers into cool season grass fields (tall fescue, orchardgrass, bluegrass, smooth bromegrass) is more successful in the early spring than in the fall. There are three basic systems: 1) with tillage 2) Tred-in and 3) with minimum or no tillage. All systems are explained below:.
1) When using the tillage system plant as early as possible! This provides earlier growth from competing weeds and kicks the early growth off to a great start.
2) The Tred-In Method: When fields are too hilly to mechanically till or if you want to reduce costs of renovating, this system works well. Confine a large population of livestock to a small acreage at a time so that the livestock can till the soil with their feet. When necessary, feed hay in areas that are somewhat isolated to get even tillage. Increase the seeding rate by 2-4 pounds and plant early and keep the cattle on the fields to ‘punch’ the seed in the soil.
3) Chemical renovation plus No-Till drill system: This is the new look. The use of Gramoxone plus surfactant or Roundup are great substitutes for tillage. The only differences are 1) the resident vegetation needs to be green for these chemicals to work so the plantings will be later. 2) the use of a no-till drill is necessary for best results. Very often, two sprays are necessary for best results. One can be applied in the fall while the vegetation is still green the second after green-up in the spring. Don’t bury the seed when you seed with the no-till drill! For more details on no-till seeding with herbicides, go to no-till seeding alfalfa in the Alfalfa Grazing Section in our web site.
Don’t forget to top-dress fertilize as needed. Let your soil tests determine what materials are needed and how much. In most sections (except the deep southern states) red clover will flourish for two years and in some regions, some farmers are able to get as much as three years from a planting. Experienced growers have formed a habit of over-seeding as the livestock are grazing early each spring. This practice helps to keep a viable stand of clover ‘coming-on’ every year so that renovating is not so imperative.