Establishing a Pasture

Establishing a Pasture


Establishing a pasture for your animals presents many variables that need consideration. Type(s) of soil, available moisture during the pasturing seasons, health of the soil and selecting the variety or varieties of plants best suited to the environment,  are all important considerations. But the most important point to remember is what kind of animal(s) will be grazing on the pasture. Horses, cattle, sheep, goats, etc, each have slightly different grazing preferences.


When buying seed for your pasture, you will usually find a two, three or four way mixture of seed varieties. The scientific reasoning is that several varieties will have a better chance of matching up to your soil types, moisture availability, growing season temperatures and various types of livestock. It sounds good. This works well to establish a pasture, but then animals are put on the pasture to graze. The animals have a distinct preference for grass based on taste, texture, and palatability (the ability for the animal to chew, swallow and digest).


Of the several varieties planted, one will usually be the preferred diet, another will be the second choice and eaten when the more preferred choice is unavailable. The other two will usually be ignored except to eat the tender tops off. Animals will constantly go back and eat the first and second choices, which will keep these varieties short and unable to store energy to regrow. Within a couple of years these plants will die from lack of root development and weakened growing areas (the crown of the plant). This leaves the varieties that are not liked to fill in the spaces left barren. Your pasture has now been taken over by weeds and the less desirable varieties in the pasture mix.


What is the solution? My recommendation for this area is to plant one type of grass. Usually, this would be a late maturing Orchard grass along with a legume. Most often this would be white clover. If there is a lot of soil variation or drier areas that won’t support white clover then adding red top clover is a good choice.


The animals will normally eat the orchard grass first, but clovers are a very good second choice. They are very palatable, regrow fast, make seed for reestablishing plants and grow into barren areas, which will help prevent weeds. Legumes are also an excellent source of protein.


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