From Seed to Success: Whinny’s Guide to Establishing a Luscious Pasture
Greetings, humans! I, Whinny the Mouse, will be your wise and witty guide to all things agricultural. Today, I am thrilled to delve into the captivating world of pasture planting. Whether you’re transforming land into a vibrant pasture or rejuvenating a field overrun by weeds, these key steps will ensure a flourishing property. So, sit back, nibble on a cheese-flavored crumb, and let’s embark on this enlightening journey together!
Plans for Planting! Oh, the haste that leads to mediocre results! Many a pasture planting endeavor fails due to the lack of a well-thought-out plan. Remember, my eager readers, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and a thriving pasture requires careful planning. Take the time to develop a step-by-step plan that addresses the unique challenges and management requirements of your new pasture. It is also best to think through any potential pitfalls and develop backup and back-backup plans. The local extension agent is your best friend in this scenario.
The first step is deciding what to plant. Visit your local county extension agent and explore the species, varieties, and cultivars readily available. Remember, not all forage species thrive in your region, so consult with your local county extension agent to determine the most successful species and varieties for your specific area. For the Florida readers, bahiagrass may be your best option. It is well adapted to the various soil types in Florida from sandy, drier sites, to damp flatwoods soils. Unfortunately, it will not tolerate extended periods of standing water, and can be slow to establish in deep sands, but no other forage species has as wide a range of adaptability to Florida soils. Bahia grass is also very adapted to short rotational grazing. This grass can be grazed all the way down to 1-2 inches–real mouse height–before only needing to rest for 1-2 weeks before it can be grazed again.
When it comes to planting, timing plays a crucial role. While February often brings a tempting warmth, young seedlings are vulnerable to frost damage. Mid-March through mid-April or mid-June through July are the recommended planting periods for warm-season forages…sooo right about now! Avoid planting in May and early June when hot, dry conditions prevail. Ideal planting conditions include good soil moisture and regular rainfall for the first few weeks to sustain seedlings until they establish a root system. Remember, if it’s as dry as a bone, postpone planting! Late summer or early fall can also be suitable, but remember that growth is slower during shorter days, and plants need time to store nutrients for winter dormancy after the first frost.
Whether planting seeds or vegetative materials, minimizing weed competition is paramount. Start by ensuring a clean slate, as preemergence herbicides for seeded forage crops are limited. If you’re converting a field with existing grass or grass weeds, consider spraying glyphosate in early fall or spring when those grasses are actively growing. Simply disking the field once or twice before planting won’t eradicate weed issues entirely. Multiple rounds of disking, resting, weed sprouting, and disking again can help reduce the weed population effectively. Additionally, prepare a firm seedbed as fluffy soil dries out quickly and can hamper seedling.
Speaking of seedlings, these little kids are at the most vulnerable phase, so we have to ensure they have access to nutrients. While the seed itself possesses ample stored energy to initiate growth, once the forage emerges and develops its root system, it craves immediate nourishment, particularly nitrogen. While it is common practice to incorporate fertilizer before or during planting, the best approach is to wait until the plants have emerged a few inches tall and possess a functioning root system. By doing so, we ensure that the tiny plants receive the nutrients they need at the right time, enhancing their chances of flourishing. Fertilizer can cause problems for the large animals we want to live on these pastures though, so it’s best practice to check the guidance on the fertilizer bag before use, though most will recommend waiting until at least ½ inch of rain has washed the pasture before putting grazing animals back on it.
For those in my neck of the woods, the UF/IFAS Soil Lab will test your soil samples prior to planting to give insights into your property’s specific requirements. If you are not in Florida, look for your state school’s agricultural extension office and I bet they offer a similar service. If the soil’s pH needs correction, you can get advice on the application of lime or dolomite to best incorporate them into the plant root zone. The soil analysis will also guide you in ordering a customized blend of fertilizer tailored to your specific field, complete with instructions for a split application. Remember, young plants don’t require all the fertilizer at once, and dividing the application minimizes the risk of leaching during heavy rainfall.
My last whisker of wisdom is this: exercise caution when it comes to grazing. Rushing to graze too soon, particularly with horses that possess top and bottom front teeth, can yield unfavorable outcomes. To determine if it’s the right time, gently pull on the grass plants and observe. If the plant is uprooted or the roots yield under minimal force, grazing should be postponed. As a general guide, most forages should reach a height of 6-12 inches before initial grazing commences, while larger plants like millet and sorghum hybrids require a height of 20-24 inches.
Keep in mind the significant investment made in establishing the pasture and provide the baby plant with ample time to recover after grazing. These newly established fields should primarily serve as supplementary grazing areas for other pastures during the first year, allowing the plants to develop and survive. Taking all this into account, you can make some beautiful pastures and fields for your horses to graze and the local field mice to frolic in. Together, we can nurture our pastures and cultivate a thriving agricultural landscape.
Until next week,
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Whinny’s Wisdoms is the official blog of Whinny the Clinic Mouse at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!