Interseeding into Pasture Stands
We’ve told you before about our formula for interseeding into pastures, but what should you use when interseeding? That depends on what your goal for the stand is, but we have a few options…
- Renovator – Throughout the life of a pasture stand, many variables can cause the stand to thin. If your goal is to add more grasses to a pasture, Renovator at 10-15 lbs per acre can be a great option. We have found that this blend of Soft-Leaf Tall Fescue, Meadow Fescue, Perennial Ryegrass, Orchardgrass, Timothy, and Italian Ryegrass works very well being interseeded into existing stands. The Italian Ryegrass will be your quick to establish portion and the rest of the blend will add persistent diversity with proper management.
- Diversifier – At PCS, we are proponents of having legumes in your pastures link to karls. If you are looking to increase the legume percentag3e of your pastures, Diversifier is what you need. It does just what the name says, diversifies your stand with red clover, white clover, alfalfa, crimson clover, alsike clover, and birdsfoot trefoil. The recommended rate to interseed with would be 5-8 lbs per acre. This multi-species blend adds in a combination of fast establishing legumes along with more persistent varieties. This pairs very well with Renovator if you are needing to add grasses and legumes.
- Freedom! MR Red Clover – This simple, mildew resistant legume addition can really boost a pasture. Freedom! MR is easy to establish and works well in existing stands. It is free of non-glandular hairs which make it more palatable and gives you the option of dry hay if pastures get ahead of your livestock.
When interseeding anything, remember the formula:
Graze/Cut → Drill in new species → Graze/Cut when established stand begins to fill in
This sequence gives new seedlings the maximum amount of light to establish and boost your pasture stand!
Have you realized that you need to boost your alfalfa and want to extend the stand for two or more years? You need an option that will last longer than the short-term choices we gave you. One of these should fit what you are looking for…
- Hakari Brome – Woah woah woah, this was on the short-term list link! It was, but as we mentioned there, Hakari can persist for 2-3 years with proper management (remember, 3-4-inch stubble height and ample regrowth time). Adding 8-10 lbs per acre of this “rescue grass” will provide high-quality forage and will dry down for hay. Use this to interseed into alfalfa stands that are on fertile, well-drained ground.
- Perennial Ryegrass – A perennial ryegrass such as Payday or Barsprinter will be quick to establish, increase production, and persist for more than the first season under good conditions. Perennial ryegrass also likes fertile soils that are well-drained, but will most likely not dry down. This is a great option where silage or baleage is the goal.
- Haymaster – By adding 8-10 lbs per are of this soft-leaf tall fescue, orchardgrass, and timothy blend, you will increase the production of the stand long-term. These perennial grasses make excellent quality, dry hay. In situations where you want to keep the alfalfa stand in place for two or more years, Haymaster is the way to go.
In any of the above recommendations, the addition of 3-4 lbs per acre of Freedom! MR red clover would be beneficial if an additional legume portion is desired. Freedom! MR is free of non-glandular hairs providing an addition legume that will dry down well and offer mildew resistance. Generally, Freedom! MR will maintain in a well-managed stand for two years.
Consider these options for stand that can be maintained long-term!
As you evaluate your alfalfa stands this spring and decide that something needs done, there are options for that land to produce forage for your operation this coming season…
- Italian Ryegrass – An Italian ryegrass like Green Spirit or Tetraprime can be interseeded at 8-12 lbs per acre to add thickness to the stand to very high quality, highly digestible forage. This will make dairy quality silage or baleage when harvested timely, but will generally not dry down for dry hay. Italian ryegrass will usually only persist for one year, but could potentially overwinter for a spring harvest or be used as a green manure. Avoid drought prone soils or low fertility environments and be aware that summer heat and humidity can lessen production of a stand.
- Hakari Brome – Interseeded at 8-12 lbs per acre, Hakari brome can be your “rescue grass” to add to hay production in year one. This is a quick-to-establish, short-lived perennial that can persist for 2-3 years when managed properly. This includes a mowing height of 3-4 inches to leave enough stubble remaining for regrowth, adequate rest time between cuttings, and fertile, well-drained soil. Unlike rhizomatous smooth brome, Hakari brome has an upright, tillering-type growth that works very well for dry hay with high forage quality.
- Forage Triticale or Forage Oats – These cool season forages can be used when the need to spruce up a stand is detected early. These can be seeded at 30-50 lbs per acre early in the spring directly into existing alfalfa stand. The harvest of either of these forages with the alfalfa that remains allows for a summer annual such as forage sorghum or sorghum sudangrass to follow.
- Teff– In stands where the alfalfa seems to be productive enough to get one cutting, teff can be a valuable option to sow. Teff is a summer annual cereal crop that has fine leaves and will dry well for hay. Teff can be harvested multiple times throughout the summer at boot stage when a four-inch stubble height is left for regrowth. The seed of teff is extremely small and the use of a good no-till drill into a firm seed bed is required for successful establishment (rolling after seeding is also preferred).
- Full Renovation– When the status of your alfalfa stand calls for full renovation, take the first cutting, then utilize a summer annual crop. Using forage sorghum, sorghum sudangrass, or sudangrass planted in mid-May to mid-June will provide the most tonnage. Soil temperatures must be 65 degrees and rising for successful establishment of these forage crops. When selecting these, be sure to know what type of forage your farm needs. Forage sorghum will be most comparable to corn silage, whereas sorghum sudangrass and sudangrass will carry more protein and higher NDFd when harvested timely.
So, when it seems like the end is near for your alfalfa stand, but you need forage production for the season to come, take a look at these options to boost production!
It is important this coming spring to evaluate your alfalfa stands for density and health. When a thin stand is detected early, there is time to improve or renovate the stand. The following methodology comes from the University of Ohio Extension and can be applied throughout all alfalfa-growing regions.
Throughout the lifetime of your alfalfa, it is normal for thinning to occur. At the same time, older alfalfa plants tend to have more stems and produce more from one plant. As you are looking at your alfalfa stands, there are two ways to determine the health and density: number of plants per square foot or number of stems per square foot. For both of the following methods, sample at least 4-6 areas throughout the field.
Plants per Square Foot
- Count the number of plants per square foot in multiple areas throughout the field. For a stand that is 3 or more years old, there should be at least six plants in every square foot area you are checking.
- You also need to make sure those plants are healthy in order to determine if they will be productive to you. Take a look at the crown and root health. Roots cut open lengthwise should be white and firm, if they are discolored or seem soft, they are not healthy. A stand is considered healthy if fewer than 30% of observed roots show discoloration.
- Observe the crowns of existing plants. They should have shoots growing evenly around the grown that look strong and healthy.
- The stand will need improved or renovated if over 50% of the examined plants show any signs of root or crow rot including discoloration or weak growth.
Stems per Square Foot
- Allow for 6 inches of growth to occur this spring.
- In multiple areas throughout the field, count the number of stems present in a square foot area.
- 54+ healthy stems = stand should stay in production
- 40-54 healthy stems = stand should stay in production, but could have reduced yield without addition of grasses or other legumes
- Less than 40 healthy stems = stand should be interseeded into to produce adequate forage or should be renovated
- To determine a healthy stem, crown, and plant, use the same guidelines as the plants per square foot method.
Stay ahead of the game with your alfalfa stand and watch for recommendations from Beyond Agronomy on what to interseed into your stands!
A note on diversity…
Diversity is key in many aspects of a farm including your pasture and forage blends. At PCS, we recommend various grass and legume species that are a great place to start when making decisions about your blends. You can also look at adding forbs in your blend. Depending on your operation and your harvest method, as much diversity as possible is best and can improve forage quality, soil health, and the overall ecosystem of your farm.
By increasing diversity, the improvements to forage quality can be seen visually as well as through animal performance when grazing. Having a blend of different grasses, legumes and forbs provides livestock a salad bar style forage. These forage types will vary in levels of fiber and protein throughout the year. This allows livestock to receive a balanced ration from higher protein legumes and forbs while getting highly digestible fiber from grasses in the mix. Different plants also have the ability to pull up different minerals and compounds that livestock need.
The underground livestock benefit from diversity as well. As much as the plants are unique above ground, their root systems provide various benefits below ground as well. Diverse rooting types means a mixture of thick fibrous roots, taproots, deep structures systems as well as dense, shallower roots. Why does this variety matter? Structurally, these roots systems hold your soils where you want it and create a sound base for your forages to grow. Soil biology benefits from the diversity because all plants release their own root exudates for biology to feed on and flourish.
Watch here for more about how to create diverse blends!
Cool season annual forages can be used in many applications for feed or grain. Prairie Creek Seed annuals are designed specifically for forage harvested and fed to livestock. From hooded barley to a forage-specific oat, you can be assured that the yield and quality will achieve the highest level. Here are some tips for Spring cereal success:
Optimum seeding rates can vary depend upon species planted, planting date and if the cereal is being used as a companion crop with alfalfa.
- Oats at 70 to 90 pounds/acre.
- Barley at 80 to 100 pounds/acre.
- Triticale at 100 pounds/acre.
Adjustments to these rates need to be made as follows:
- Seed at the lower end of the range for early planting and the higher end of the range for late planting (after mid-May).
- If alfalfa is under-seeded, lower the seeding rates by 30 percent to reduce competition with the legume.
- When using a cereal grain pea blend, the forage seeding rate needs to be increased by 20 percent.
- Strive for early planting (as soil conditions allow). Late planting for a forage harvest does remain an option; however, yields from late planting will be more dependent on temperature and moisture conditions.
EverLeaf 126 forage oat is a true spring oat that provides high-quality forage and a lot of it. EverLeaf 126 has leaves that extend above the canopy at heading. It is also a delayed heading oat, and much of its forage mass and quality come from its extended maturity.
Forage triticale from PCS will be awnless or awnletted for palatability if the forage is delayed in harvest. Dry-matter yield will be close to high-yielding forage oats and fit into an operation with a high level of management. Best harvest timing will result in a very high-quality forage. Triticale works well as a companion forage with forage barley or forage oats.
Focus on Forage. (2003). University of Wisconsin.
What is the verdict on last year? Prairie Creek Seed has been to and hosted dozens of meetings and conferences in the last few months and there has been a common theme: Wow, 2019 was rough. This holds true through dairy groups, beef groups, organic, non-organic, cover croppers, and grain farmers all around. Too much water was a main concern for a majority of Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, but there were also drought issues in Illinois and Missouri in 2019. Since we have mostly been in the areas with too much moisture, we have seen the challenges that this has presented:
The general consensus of 2019 was that pasture productivity was low. Thanks to the excess moisture, most pastures were waterlogged for most of the season. What does this do underground? With water filling all pore spaces with nowhere to go, almost all of the air was locked out of pasture soils. This means soil biology and rooting ability was stalled for long periods of time. Pasture productivity perfectly mirrors this shut down soil activity.
Solution for 2020: Maintain grazing rotation to allow pasture species to fully recover and build their root systems that were suffocated last season. Also consider ways to get air back into your pasture soils. Aerators and pasture renovation coulters can be a useful tool in this situation. We do not need to till the ground, just start getting air down in there to reactivate the soil biology.
Cover Crops and Forages-
What cover crops? That may be the response from those who were not able to seed fall cover crops last year. It is true that there are limitations in the fall for getting cover crops in the ground and being too wet and getting snow in October are great examples. For those who depend on cover crops as forages, this year was extra difficult.
Solution for 2020: Don’t stay down on yourself too long about not getting cover crops in. There can still be opportunities this spring for frost seeding or early spring cover crops to go into your rotation. On the forage side of things, utilizing a small grain in your rotation can be a risk management tool allowing a great time for a summer seeded forage to meet your livestock's needs when other forages are not producing like you need them to.
Messages Moving Forward -
It is clear that farms have to build resilience to combat the weather extremes that have occured and the challenges that will continue to occur. How can we do this? Take a hard look at your rotation and where you can manage your risk better. Also consider diversifying your operation to give yourself flexibility and spread that risk.
Prairie Creek Seed is optimistic about 2020 and we are looking forward to new chances for planting, grazing, and harvesting throughout the year. We are remaining only optimistic for the year to come!
Using a nurse crop is a fairly common practice, but we do get questions on the how-to. Here are some frequently asked questions about nurse crops:
When should I use a nurse crop?
We recommend a nurse crop with any new seeding. This included pasture seedings as well as new alfalfa or alfalfa/grass stands. Regardless of weed pressure of the area the new seeding is going, nurse crops can be a useful tool.
Why should I use a nurse crop?
The most known goal of a nurse crop is to suppress weeds while the new plants establish. These seedlings, especially grass seedlings, are susceptible to being shaded out by too much competition. Many annual weeds are much quicker growing than the desired grasses or legumes, so they can quickly become deadly to new seedings. Even if weeds are not a concern for your new seeding area, nurse crops also provide erosion control. Root systems of the young plants are not going to be thick enough to protect the soil during a heavy rain or wind event. Nurse crops provide a quicker establishing root system to hold the soil in place. Another benefit of a nurse crop is proving your operation a source of forage from that ground on the new seeding year. That land would otherwise not provide anything in its first year, so using a nurse crop can be an economical decision as well.
What should I plant for a nurse crop and what rate?
A common nurse crop is cover crop or grain oats. These work well, but if you want to step it up a notch for forage quality and tonnage, you could use a forage oat like Everleaf 126. Forage oats can be used alone as a nurse crop at 40-50 lbs per acre or can be combined with forage peas and seeded at 50-60 lbs per acre. Adding peas can increase protein value in the forage. Some other options would be spring barley or spring triticale. Both of these would be earlier maturing that forage oats and would generally provide lower tonnage.
When should I harvest the nurse crop?
Harvesting the cereal nurse crop earlier, around boot stage, will result in higher quality forage. Waiting slightly longer will increase forage while providing slightly lower quality. Waiting longer to harvest for higher tonnage can also cause lodging and shading problems to your new seeding below. This leads us to the next point…
A question we ask: Do you want a lot of forage or a solid stand of your new seeding?
While it is useful to use nurse crops to provide forage, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. If you are truly looking for high tonnage from your spring seeded forage, such as oats and peas, it may be better to plant them alone at a higher rate and not as a nurse crop. You could then harvest at the correct time to achieve maximum forage and quality and follow that with a late summer-early fall pasture or alfalfa seeding. This ensures your new seeding does not get shaded out or smothered out.
Let us know your other questions about nurse crops or new seedings!
How do I choose a cover crop?
When someone asks that, there are two response questions that should immediately come to mind: “What is your resource concern?” and “What is your window for seeding?” It is hard to say which is more important or which should come first (kind of like the chicken and the egg...)
The timing of cover crops in a rotation takes some planning ahead. As you consider the goals of your cover crop, you have to know when a realistic seeding window is for your operation. We have given an overview of the following different cover crop seeding windows: Pre-Plant Cool Season, Early Interseeding, Interseeding into Wide Rows, After Small Grains, and After Fall Harvest. Take a look at those posts to see where your cover crop will land in the year.
Identifying your resource concern is something that should be happening at the same time as deciding your cover crop window. Here are some common goals of cover crops and how to achieve them:
Fixing Nitrogen – Utilizing cover crops that will fix nitrogen and then release it to the following crop is an amazing way to eventually lower input costs. A rule of thumb is that at flowering before setting seed is when legumes produce their peak amount of nitrogen. This means legumes have to have an adequate amount of time to produce enough growth to give you that nitrogen credit. This goal can generally be met for cover crops planted early spring, throughout the summer, and early fall with enough time before a frost. After fall harvest of corn or soybeans, nitrogen fixing options become limited. Keep in mind other nutrients that can be made available by cover crop such as phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, etc. when considering what to use in a blend. Nitrogen fixing cover crops are beneficial, but not as much when another nutrient is your limiting factor. Diversity in a blend to make as many nutrients available as possible is key.
Soil Structure Correcting – Compaction is an extremely common resource concern that producers want to address with cover crops. While brassicas like Pick-Axe radish are often the first to be desired, annuals such as annual ryegrass can be a great compliment to those deep taproots with their own fibrous, branching system. A mix of the two can do wonders for compacted soil by creating various channels throughout the soil for air, water and soil biology. To improve overall soil structure, almost any variation of a cover crop blend that has diverse species and root systems will do the job. That being said, the blend you choose is completely dependent on that previously mentioned seeding window you are able to use.
Forage – While it can be argued that a crop planted for a grazing or harvesting is simply a forage crop, many fit the role of a cover crop simultaneously. Need grazing in the spring before pastures are ready? A fall planted winter annual (like cereal rye) will provide that while also serving as a cover crop over the winter. You will have a living root in the ground all winter and the topsoil will be stabilized during spring rains. Need summer forage when pastures slow down? Use a soil building blend of summer annuals (like Summer Blend) to provide high quality forage and varying root systems to keep your underground livestock happy. For fall grazing, use a combination of annual grasses, brassicas, and legumes planted late summer to extend your grazing season into the fall while also providing cover on what may otherwise be bare ground.
Show that cover crop to your cows and your soil biology and they will both be interested!
“We don’t have a window for seeding cover crops.”
This is the fifth and final way we respond to that statement in a series explaining the various windows for cover crops on most farms. Key word there is most, every farm is different and this can be adjusted in ways that work for you. Disclaimer: The dates of these windows will vary based on region!
This is generally the most common window of seeding that producers think of when it comes to cover crops. What is the downfall of this option? That red line that reads “Cut-off for Diversity” above. While, there is plenty of time to get something seeded after fall harvest, the options for diverse blends declines mid-September in most areas and not many fall harvested crops are off by then. That being said, this is still a great opportunity to seed covers!
Options before that diversity cut-off include cool season annual grasses, clovers, brassicas, peas, lentils and more! It all depends on your resource concern. Stick to the higher forage options if you want to graze. Use more legumes if you are trying to fix nitrogen for the next crop. Incorporate brassicas into the mix if you are trying to work on compaction and soil structure. Taking advantage of the opportunity before mid-September to add as much diversity as possible is very important. This is also an opportunity to get your winter annual small grain established to set yourself up for your quantum leap year!
Mid-September we stop recommending most clovers and brassicas as they will generally not get enough growth to provide enough benefit. So, what can you plant after that red line cut-off? Winter cereal grains are the main options, with triticale and wheat being cut-off in mid-October. That leaves cereal rye which, as many know, can be seeded basically up until the ground freezes. Cereal rye is stubborn and will continue putting roots down as long as temperatures are above or around 34 degrees. We have heard many stories of cereal rye being seeded at Christmas and still coming up in the spring as the first cover crop to green up (great for catching all the sunlight possible).
Many of the seeding options mentioned above have a dual purpose of cover crop and forage if you need it. As a cover crop, they hold soil in place and keep a living root in the ground as long as possible to feed your soil biology. The earlier-planted diverse blends can be stockpiled and rotationally grazed. This helps extend your grazing season in the fall. Even the later planted options can be grazed in the fall, but be careful with this as to not knock them out before winter. Those winter annuals can also be grazed in the spring to provide early forage and ground with a cover for calving.
The options for this window vary based on what your goal of the species seeded this time of year are, adjust to what is best for your operation and the year to come!