Which grass do I need?
You’ve discovered your pasture needs renovation. You know how you are going to renovate. Now you are wondering “Which grasses do I need?” We’ve touched on some examples before on what to interseed into thinning pastures, but let’s get more specific to your situation. These factors affect what grasses and legumes you need:
Where in the world are you? All grasses and legumes have different levels of moisture and heat that they work best under. Depending on your region, summer conditions can vary greatly. Orchardgrass and tall fescue are great options where heat tolerance is needed, whereas perennial ryegrass and Kentucky bluegrass do not handle heat as well.
Class of animal
Who is going to be eating? Some grasses provide high quality food with highly digestible fiber. Examples would be meadow fescue, tall fescue, perennial ryegrass, and festulolium. This makes them high energy options that work well for making dairy quality feed. Not all livestock need such high energy forage, so those grasses may not be necessary in a mix. For livestock who need higher protein, perennial legumes can also be good to have in your stand.
Sand or Clay? Different soil types and fertility levels support certain grasses and legumes. Some grasses and legumes can handle wet soils: alsike clover, tall fescue, and timothy. Others need a higher plane of fertility to perform best like meadow fescue.
How much rest will each paddock get? This is one of the first questions we ask when recommending grass and legume species. A very general rule of thumb is the longer rest and recovery a paddock is given, the more diversity can be in a mix including more legumes and higher energy grasses. A set stock situation is a little more limited to “tougher” grasses and legumes that can handle traffic and grazing, but may not provide as high of forage quality.
Do you need it dry? Harvest method is another big factor in the amount of diversity a mix can have. For grazing or making wet bales, the options are more broad. High-energy grasses and almost all perennial legumes can work very well for making baleage and being grazed with longer recovery. If you need to harvest the stand as dry hay, your options are mostly down to tall fescue, orchardgrass, timothy, red clover and alfalfa in a mix. The reason for this is many high-energy grasses like perennial ryegrass have a waxy coating on the underside of the leaf that prevents it from drying when cut. See the picture below that compared an orchardgrass blade to a shiny perennial ryegrass blade:
We have created this chart to compare some perennial species’ characteristics!