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Allow Frost to Seed Your Pastures For Livestock Grazing, Hay Production

Seed legumes to your livestock pastures or hay ground and let freeze and thaw cycles do the work

Want greener pastures and hay fields this summer? Take advantage of the still-frozen grounds and try frost seeding your pastures.

Frost seeding, which is a method of broadcasting seed over frozen pastures to allow the seed to be incorporated into the soil as the ground freezes and thaws, can offer producers a less expensive way to renovate their pastures, says Rory Lewandowski, with OSU Extension.

This method is well suited to the transition between winter and spring because the natural freeze and thaw cycle occurring now helps to move the seed into good contact with the soil, he said. It also saves producers money on fuel and equipment cost compared with using either a no-till or conventional drill.

"The advantage to frost seeding a legume such as red or white clover is that legumes fix nitrogen typically in excess of their own needs, allowing the existing grass to use the excess nitrogen and improving their quality as a feedstuff," he says. "Once legumes become uniformly established and make up 30% of the stand, there is no need to apply supplemental nitrogen, saving producers money on fertilizer."

Frost seeding can also help producers increase their long-term profits by adding these legumes to their pastures, which provide better quality forage for livestock, Lewandowski says.

"It'll offer livestock higher protein content and higher energy content, which results in better animal performance," he says. "Frost seeding is a smart practice to improve pasture quality, particularly for those who have forages as an important part of their operations.

"It's all about letting the natural weather cycle of freeze and thaw do some of the work for you."

Legumes work better than grasses to frost seed, Lewandowski says. Some of the most widely used legumes in Ohio for frost seeding include red clover and white clover.

"Red clover is a popular choice for frost seeding because it has high seedling vigor, is tolerant of a wide range of soil pH and fertility conditions, and tolerates drought," he says.

Producers need to keep in mind the following seeding rates:
•Red clover: 6 to 8 pounds per acre
•Ladino or white clover: 2 to 3 pounds per acre
•Alsike clover: 2 to 4 pounds per acre
•Birdsfoot Trefoil: 4 to 6 pounds per acre

When frost seeding a legume species that has not been grown in the pasture for a number of years, producers should be aware of the need to include the proper bacterial inoculum to ensure that the bacteria responsible for fixing nitrogen become associated with the plant roots, Lewandowski said.

"The success of any new seeding depends upon soil fertility conditions, good seed/soil contact and the grazing management that will be used once that plant is up and growing," he says.

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TAGS: Forage
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