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Don’t wait until spring to seed pastures

Freezing and thawing aid in seeding legumes over thinning pastures during the winter.

Duane Dailey

February 6, 2020

2 Min Read
black cattle in snowy pasture
BRAVE THE COLD: This year’s winter weather set beef producers up for a spring forage boost, as long as they get out and broadcast seed pastures. Getty Images

Present weather with frequent freezing and thawing helps farmers overseed weakened pastures. Natural fluctuations in soil help work broadcast seed into thinned grass stands.

“It’s no-till help,” says Craig Roberts, University of Missouri Extension forage specialist.

Thin stands of grass caused by summer weather, overgrazing or other reasons can be rebuilt. Broadcast seeds are even helped by melting snow.

End-of-winter seeding improves pastures by adding legumes — a high-protein forage — to fill thin spots. That’s better than overseeding more grass, Roberts says. Long-term MU research, plus farm experience, shows legume advantages.

Benefits of legumes

“Don’t wait for spring to plant,” Roberts says. “Get seed on early to gain growing time when spring returns.” Tiny, hard-coated legume seeds remain viable in cold. They don’t sprout until warm weather arrives.

Legumes reinforce grass pastures by adding needed nutrients for livestock. Legume dilution helps especially in fescue. Adding new forage dilutes toxicosis from Kentucky 31 tall fescue.

Legumes in a beef calf diet can add an extra quarter-pound of gain per day. In addition, legumes help cow reproduction and lactation. Another benefit is that legumes fix nitrogen from the air to add to the soil.

Many legumes work in pastures, including white and red clover and lespedeza. All are popular in Missouri.

Overseeding works well in thinning stands but helps all grass stands. At planting, make sure seeds reach the soil surface. Too much thatch blocks contact. If they are not touching the ground, seeds can’t sprout and put down roots.

Roberts recommends seeding rates of a quarter-pound per acre for ladino clover, 8 pounds for red clover and 10 pounds for annual lespedeza.

Not a cure

Adding legumes dilutes toxic fescue but doesn’t solve the problem altogether. Preventing fescue toxicosis takes replacing toxic plants with a novel-endophyte variety. Modern varieties contain a natural endophyte fungus that protects fescue grass but produces little or no toxic alkaloids.

Replacement requires totally killing old stands of Kentucky 31 tall fescue before reseeding. Novel-endophyte varieties eliminate many of the workarounds needed to graze toxic fescue.

Ways to seed novel-endophyte fescue are taught in advanced fescue schools. Those are held by the Alliance for Grassland Renewal in seven states across the Fescue Belt from Missouri to the Atlantic Ocean. Other schools are in Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Virginia and North Carolina.

The Missouri fescue school will be March 25 at MU Southwest Research Center, Mount Vernon. Southwest Center is part of the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

Dailey is a retired MU Extension professor. He writes from his home in Columbia, Mo.

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