Horses are designed to graze and good quality pasture boosts their health and nutrition. Here’s how to energize pastures on your farm with the right fertilizer and seed!
Early Fall is prime time to overseed pastures. Warmer soil temperatures encourage germination and adequate moisture, less weed competition, and cool, desirable weather conditions give grass a good head start. Taking the time to energize pastures now pays off in the spring when healthier grass returns!
The first step in any pasture improvement program is to determine your fertilizer needs. Take the guess work out and have the soil tested. Soils are drier and easier to sample this time of year, so contact your county Extension agent for a kit. Knowing what nutrients might be lacking is extremely important for good plant growth.
Here’s a bonus from your horses: manure is an excellent fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. When you’re spreading manure on pastures with a Millcreek manure spreader, you’re not only eliminating the nasty manure pile, you’re applying nature’s best organic fertilizer! Very often all you’ll need to add to pasture to encourage new grass growth is nitrogen. Manure also adds organic matter to the soil which improves soil structure, aeration, water-holding capacity, and water penetration.
Common cool-season grass species to plant now are Timothy, Orchard Grass and Smooth Brome. If your zone permits, turf-type lawn grasses like Kentucky bluegrass can be used for higher-traffic areas. Avoid using clover unless you’re certain your horses tolerate it well. No matter what seed you use, be sure to buy the best quality you can find of a variety proven to be a top performer in your area.
Ground preparation before seeding is key. Use a chain drag or harrow to distribute manure, break up organic material and loosen soil. Grass seed must have good soil contact to encourage germination. (See video)
Ideally you’ll sow grass six weeks prior to the first frost in your area. That’s the length of time needed for plants to store up nutrients for the winter. Sow your grass seed thickly on a day where precipitation is expected in the near future. Use the best seeding method available. No-till drill seeding is recommended, but with any method, place the seed ¼ to ½ of an inch into the soil and cover it to achieve good seed-to-soil contact.
Keep horses off newly-sown grass for as long as possible in order for the plants to become established, by rotating pasture or using temporary fencing. When you see your seeds start to sprout, you may be tempted to use your pasture for grazing again. Don’t do it! Newly planted grasses and legumes need time to develop a strong root system. If grazed too early, plants may die and be replaced by unwanted weeds or less desirable species. Immature roots cannot handle the stresses of grazing and trampling caused by turned out animals.
Fall is also the best time to control perennial weeds with an herbicide. Perennial plants are storing nutrients in their roots for winter, so as the nutrients go in, so does the herbicide. Caveat: be sure to follow recommended waiting periods when applying herbicides (check labels). It’s typically recommended to seed at least six weeks after spraying and wait until grass seedlings are 4 to 5 inches tall before spraying again. Also, herbicides usually work best on re-growth so close mowing or grazing prior to reseeding will reduce weed competition. (For more information, see Weed Management in Grass Pastures, Hayfields, and Other Farmstead Sites).
Making the effort to energize pastures now by overseeding will result in better grazing
for your horses next spring!