Frost Seeding: Simple, But Not Foolproof

by Rico Balzano, UVM Extension Agronomy Outreach Professional

Frost seeding can be an efficient and cost effective way to reseed or introduce new forage species to pastures and hay meadows. Successful frost seeding can improve forage quality, and research in Michigan has shown yield increases by 1.5-2.0 tons of dry matter per acre. That is a pretty good return on the cost the cost of the seed and the time to broadcast it. However, frost seeding is not right for every situation and not every year presents the ideal conditions. The basic idea behind frost seeding is the freeze-thaw cycle and rain of early spring will help incorporate seed broadcast over the surface. It is a simple process, but timing is critical: seed too early and seed may die, seed too late and there is no frost to do the work. Frost seeding can be accomplished with broadcast spreaders that mount onto ATVs or tractor 3-point hitches.  Roller seeders are also very effective but will require more passes across the field. This can be done over minimal snow cover, but broadcasting over deeper snow before a rapid melting can result in losing seed to runoff.  In Vermont, most frost seeding happens in late February or March. But now is the time to start planning.

Site Selection– Choose where you frost seed carefully. Pastures and hay meadows that are predominately sod-forming grasses, such as bluegrass or reed canary grass, can have a thick thatch barrier that can make seed establishment difficult. Grazing livestock “stomping” the seed in can be worth a try in these situations. Also, soil type is important. Soils that have natural moisture through the early summer, such as loam and clay soil, work best for frost seeding. Sandy soils should be avoided.

Soil Test, Lime, and Fertilizer– If possible, apply any needed lime a year in advance. Nitrogen should be avoided the year before and the year of seeding. This only stimulates grasses and weeds making them too competitive. Legumes need phosphorus and potassium, however, to compete with grasses.

Preparing the fall before seeding- Seed to soil contact is critical for frost seeding to work. Grazing or clipping pastures and hay meadows down to about 2” the previous fall or winter opens the canopy and allows broadcast seed to reach the soil. Grazing tightly will also reduce the vigor of the existing forages the following spring, helping the new seedlings to better compete.  In some cases, lightly disturbing the soil with a disk the fall before frost seeding can help increase success.

Seed Selection, Legumes: Alfalfa, clover, and trefoil can all be successfully frost seeded. Alfalfa should be frost-seeded on well drained soils with near neutral pH and adequate levels of phosphorus and potassium. Avoid fields where alfalfa already exists.  Autotoxicity will prevent new alfalfa plants from becoming established. Clovers have better success on poorly drained and with less lime and fertilizer. Red clover establishes quickly and produces for one or two years, while white clovers can last three years or more. Although birdsfoot trefoil is slow to establish, it is long lived, improves with time, and can become the dominant legume as red clover dies out. Be sure to inoculate all legume seed.

Seed Selection, Grasses: Older alfalfa stands that have become less productive can sometimes benefit from grasses being introduced. This can be challenging because most grasses tend not to be as successful as legumes when frost seeded. Research from the University of Wisconsin has shown that perennial ryegrass and orchardgrass have the best success in years when moisture is adequate for growth. However, perennial ryegrass is not as winter hardy as other cool season grasses so persistence may be a problem.

Seed Mixtures: In many cases, seeding more than one species can be advantageous. For example, red clover and birdsfoot trefoil seeded together can ensure a long-term legume presence in a pasture. In research done at Iowa State, red clover established quickly and was productive for two years before declining, while birdsfoot trefoil became productive in the second and following years. For this reason, many producers frost seed red clover every two to three years to maintain legume production. Also, especially when seeding mixes using broadcast type seeders, be sure to determine the spreading width. Different species and mixes will vary. For example, legume seed tends to “throw” further than grass seed. Therefore it is recommended to separate grass and legume seed and spread them in two passes.

Grazing management after seeding:  Establishment of legumes depends on control of grasses and weeds, especially in the first two to three months after emergence. Immediately after seeding, but before emergence, animals can be used to control early spring growth. Hoof action will assist the freeze-thaw cycle to incorporate seed. Cattle should be removed before emergence to prevent seedling damage.  After legume emergence, moderate but quick grazing, not shorter than 3-4”, after the grass starts growing will give legume seedlings a chance. Periodic mowing, or an early hay cut, may be necessary to control grasses and weeds. If possible, birdsfoot trefoil will benefit from an early fall rest period.

Recommended Rates for Frost Seeding into Existing Sod (U. of Wisconsin)

Rate (lb./acre)

Expected Establishment

Plants per Square ft.

Species

Seeded Alone

In Mixture

Red Clover

4-8

3-4

2-5

Ladino Clover

2-3

1-2

1-2

Birdsfoot Trefoil

4-6

2-3

6-9 (in 2nd year)

Alfalfa

5-8

3-4

4-6

Perennial Ryegrass

8-15

2-3

10-12

Orchardgrass

3-4

3-4

4

 

Stand Density of Two Forage Legume Following Frost Seeding (Michigan State U.)

Red Clover

Trefoil

————————————–Months after seeding———————————-

3

15

3

15

Established plants as % of herbicide treated stand

0 cuts

69

51

74

52

2 cuts

79

82

88

96

4 cuts

103

107

117

114

Herbicide

100

100

100

100

 

Additional Information and links:

http://pss.uvm.edu/vtcrops/?Page=articles/PastureProduction.html
http://www.uwex.edu/ces/crops/frostsd.htm
http://www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/PM856.pdf
http://www.msue.msu.edu/objects/content_revision/download.cfm/revision_id.283375/workspace_id.108285/Frost%20Seeding%20Guidelines.pdf/

Grazing Road Trip

 

UVM Extension Grazing Specialists Kim Hagen and Cheryl Cesario (taking the picture) spent the day last week with Willie Gibson of NOFA-VT and grazing expert Darrell Emmick from NY state. The group visited an organic dairy farm in East Montpelier and a grass-fed beef operation in Waitsfield. They spent a whirlwind day discussing topics such as large herd grazing planning, forage quality and quantity, and reclaiming pasture land.

New Grazing Guide From UVM Extension

Managing Pasture as a Crop – A Guide to Good Grazing, written by Darrell Emmick while on staff at UVM Extension in Middlebury is now available. The 80 page book is a great read for livestock farmers who want to learn more about getting the best from their land.

Check it out HERE Managing Pasture as a Crop

Managing Pasture as a Crop
A Guide to Good Grazing, by Darrell L. Emmick, Ph.D.

Top Grazing Mistakes (and how to avoid them)

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA) annual field days recently took place in Brattleboro and while this event is a chance for organic dairy producers across the region to get together, many of the topics presented are relevant for any grazing dairy producer, organic or not. One of the great workshops was ‘Top Grazing Mistakes’ presented by three grazing experts – Sarah Flack, organic consultant; Dr. Cindy Daly,  California State University; and Kathy Soder, USDA Agricultural Research Station in Pennsylvania. This is a brief excerpt. A complete article from this workshop can be found by clicking HERE. 

What are some common mistakes made by dairy grazers?

  • Inadequately designed system/infrastructure (incorrectly sized paddocks, too few or too many acres, poor grounding for fencing, poor quality land used for grazing)
  • Pasture nutrition problems (overfeeding protein in the barn and lack of forage quality in the pasture)
  • Less than ideal grazing management (resulting in overgrazing damage, soil erosion, an increase in weeds, less productive plants, and internal parasite issues)

At this time of the year it is important that pasture plants go into winter with enough energy reserve for next spring. Remember that the plant height you see above the ground is an indicator of the root length below the ground. Sending plants into dormancy with 1 inch of overall height does not give them much energy storage for survival, as these reserves are generally stored in the first 2-4 inches of the plant base. Overtime this can result in weakened plants that die out and decrease the overall density and quality of the pasture. Keeping a higher residual height will allow plants to store more energy and get a robust start in the spring.

 

So what are some of the practices at this time of the year that can result in overgrazing damage?

  • Removing the interior fences and letting cows ‘clean up’ the pastures.
  • Letting animals graze the same pasture for more than 3 days.
  • Returning animals to a pasture before all the plants have regrown. At this time of year, that period is approximately 40 days.
  • Not adding additional acreage into the grazing rotation when plant growth rates slow down.
  • Using follower groups that graze close and do not leave enough plant residue.

If you have found yourself doing any of the above, don’t despair! Now is the time to identify any issues and formulate a plan for next year to ensure that pastures remain healthy and productive all season long.

Tillage Radish: An Exciting Pasture Plant

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Our no-till drill saw a lot of pasture activity during summer of 2012 and one of the many exciting things we experimented with seeding was tillage radish. Unlike the little red radishes you find in your salad, the tillage radish is a large tap-rooted variety that has the ability to grow several inches long in a short period of time. As with other tap-rooted plants, it has the ability to pull up nutrients from deeper in the soil and also helps break up soil compaction. The radish, being an annual crop, will rot over the winter months leaving a channel where it grew the previous year. This channel enables water and air to percolate into the lower soil layers.

One farmer who has been experimenting quite a bit with tillage radish is Guy Choiniere of Highgate. Guy broadcasts a mix of radish and ryegrass seed at 10 pounds to the acre. He will typically seed heavy use and other problem areas in June with a seeder mounted on his ATV. Once the radish has established, Guy lets his Holstein cows graze the radish tops. The tops re-grow enabling the cows to graze them again later in the season. If you haven’t already seen the UVM Extension ‘Across the Fence’ program about this project, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYHL5CCkhYM

Addison County farmers have wondered if the radishes would do as well on our heavy clay soils (Guy’s soils are fairly sandy). This season we were able to seed tillage radish with the no-till drill into pastures on farms in Addison, Cornwall, and Orwell. Success was noted in Cornwall, where radishes were seeded onto land that had been grazed and rooted by pigs. Seeding occurred before a light rain and germinated after just 2 days. Plants seeded in mid-August grew tops over a foot tall before frost set in and radishes grew up to 6 inches long. Next spring we hope to do more seeding trials earlier in the season so that the radish can grow to its full potential. Stay tuned!

Summary of Current Dairy Situtation Conference Call with Bob Wellington, Agrimark Senior Economist

Via Alan Curler…

The following is summary of a conference call with Bob Wellington, Senior economist with Agrimark, on Sept. 6, 2012 at 10:AM. These are notes taken by Bob Parsons, UVM Extension.

Current dairy situation: We are seeing the following conditions….Record low milk:feed ratio, $8 corn, $530 Soymeal, $17 soybeans, Drought in midwest, tight dairy economic conditions, rising milk prices but continuing increase in milk production….What does all this mean for milk prices in the coming months?

Bob Wellington:  Currently we are seeing US production leveling off, with some regions reporting less milk production than that reported by USDA. Michigan and
Wisconsin up but other states like California and New Mexico down. Vermont and New York are up slightly while PA is down in milk production. For the northeast We are seeing milk prices increase through growth of Class III and Class IV. Cheese prices have moved up as have prices for butter and powered milk. Exports now account for 14% of US production so they make a huge difference. Its helping farmers by raising Class IV and Class II prices.

In the coming months, we expect:
Sept payments for Aug milk to be up $1 from Aug checks and a$1.70 over July milkchecks.
By November, payments for October milk can expect blend prices to be over $20.
In December for November milk, expect blend prices over $21.
In January for December milk, expect blend prices of $20.
But we expect cheese or powder milk need to go up a bit and remain stable to meet these prices.

Next spring….CME dairy futures are hanging at $18-$20 for Class III through next spring.

Bob Wellington is more pessimistic about milk production than USDA as feed conditions could get worse. If production is lower, likely have $20 milk prices into next summer. Could we see $25….likely not because as milk prices increase, likely to lose international markets, dampening milk prices. With 14% of milk exported, a loss of exports will impact
domestic milk prices.

Policy update:
MILC was reformulated on Sept 1, which is detrimental to dairy farmers facing tight margins. Many questions of future actions of House of Representatives on the new Farm Bill. If Farm Bill is extended, it would include revised MILC which is not going to help dairy farmers. There are some big changes in the current dairy provisions of the Farm Bill passed by the Senate. What will come out will depend on the action, or inaction, of the House.  Stay tuned.

Question on why we are seeing decline in fluid milk consumption….
School consumption is down with elimination of flavored milk and preference of cafeterias for fat free milk. Fat free milk doesn’t taste as good.
Lots of alternative drinks out there with lots of promotion.
Lots of imitators…soy milk, almond milk, available and being pushed.
Processors promoting alternative products which are likely more profitable than milk.
Class I consumption in recent years is linked to the growth of US population. More people, more fluid milk consumption but lower consumption per capitia. Hispanic population
consumption of fluid milk is a big plus.
As fluid milk consumption per capita goes down, other products as cheese, butter, soft products, and powder have a greater impact on milk prices.

Cows Need Water to Thrive, Not Just Survive

One of the key elements of a successful grazing system is having clean and abundant water available at all times. Just how much is needed? A lactating dairy cow consumes up to 25 gallons of water per day, while a beef cow requires up to 20 gallons. The total amount of water that must be provided is not just dependent on how many animals there are, but also how far animals must travel to the water tub, as well as the distance from the water tub to the water source.

In an intensively managed pasture with water 600- 900 feet away, animals will drink from the water tub individually as they feel like it. The flow rate should be such that the total water demand can be supplied within 4-8 hours. Water tubs should be sized so that 2-4% of the herd can drink at once. This is in contrast to larger, continuously grazed pastures where water is located at greater distances. In these situations, animals tend to go to water as a herd and therefore, the capacity and recharge ability must be greater to accommodate more animals at once.

Claghorn and Hunt 003

Here’s an example of how to calculate water needs:

Animals and grazing system: 75 dairy cows in a rotational system

Daily consumption: 75 x 25 gallons = 1,875 gallons

Distance to water in a paddock: less than 900 feet

Tank refill time: 4 hours (240 minutes)

Required flow rate: 1,875 gallons/240 minutes = 7.8 gallons/minute

 

The flow rate and the distance to the water source (well, pond, etc.) are used to determine the size of the black plastic pipe that will meet the water demand. There are charts and tables available that can help you determine if, for example, 1 inch pipe is sufficient or if a larger diameter pipe is needed. In our climate, water lines in pastures are typically laid on top of the ground, since they are not used in winter, so protection from freezing is not necessary. Lines above the ground are cheaper to install, easier to repair, and are portable. Lines can be buried where they cross vehicle or animal lanes.

When calculating water needs, it is best not to design the system on the absolute minimum requirements. Building in a buffer will account for circumstances such as hot weather, which can double an animal’s water requirements. There are several other factors to consider when designing a water system including topography, type of pump used, pipe layout, and of course, cost. There is a great publication called ‘The ABCs of Livestock Watering Systems’ published by Michigan State University Extension. It can be found at HERE 

UVM Extension is offering a 90% cost share program to install infrastructure to encourage livestock exclusion from streams in the Lake Champlain Watershed. If you are considering a water source development project including pipeline, water tanks, and fencing there may be funds available to help. For more information, contact our office at 388-4969.

Fill Their Rumens, Get More Milk

A: Low Density Pasture = Less Intake

Low Density Pasture

 

B: High Density Pasture = More Intake

Dense spring pasture

Well-managed pasture can be high quality forage, when the stand is dense, at least 6-8 inches tall, and a mix of grasses, legumes, and herbs. To maintain a pasture-based dairy ration, dry matter intake from pasture must remain high. When this intake is limited, milk production decreases. So what influences how much pasture forage an animal will consume? For starters, a high plant density in the pasture leads to higher intake because the animals don’t have to spend time walking around and nibbling for forage. Instead, they can stand in one spot, taking several bites from a diversity of plants before moving on. With each bite, the cow will be grabbing large mouthfuls of pasture plants. This equates to more rapid rumen fill. Why is this important? There is a limit to how much time a cow will spend grazing each day. Cows also need time for rest and rumination. The less energy a cow has to expend finding food, the better. If she can only take so many bites per day, then those bites need to be as full as possible. Ideally, ruminants will be provided with an abundant, nutrient-dense ‘salad’ each time they go out to graze.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Would you like to get from A to B to maximize your pasture potential? With funding from NRCS, resources are available NOW for grazing system planning. If you would like assistance developing a grazing management plan, contact Cheryl Cesario at 388-4969 x 346.

Biodiverse Pastures

pasture bouquet

Improving plant biodiversity in pastures has several benefits. A variety of species in a pasture will give grazing animals a range of plants to eat and provide a buffer against weather and seasonal variability. A combination of grasses, legumes and herbs will provide a mix of shallow-rooted and tap rooted plants, the latter of which will create channels into the subsoil and bring up necessary nutrients. A healthy pasture ‘polyculture’ results in a healthy soil ecosystem, improved water percolation and reduced run-off, which in turn benefits our streams and lakes.

So, how do you improve pasture diversity? One option would be to utilize the no-till drills that the UVM Extension office has purchased and incorporate the species of your choice into your pastures. Seed may be incorporated at 8-14 pounds per acre. An example might be 8 pounds of orchard grass, 4 pounds of ladino clover, and 2 pounds of chicory per acre. Chicory? Yes, but let’s clarify we are talking about forage chicory, which is not the same plant as the one seen growing on our roadsides. Forage chicory is a great plant for mineral nutrition in livestock and is highly digestible. If the goal is to add some legumes to pastures that tend to be on the wetter side, drilling in birdsfoot trefoil or alsike clover may be beneficial. On drier ground, with a neutral pH, alfalfa may be a good choice. Red clover is adapted to a wide range of soil types and is fairly easy to establish either through interseeding or frost seeding.

While there are dozens of commercial pasture seed mixes on the market, they are not all created equally. It’s important to read the seed tags and in many cases more information can be found online. For example, the website for the company of one mix that has been sold locally says, “In climates lower than Zone 4, plants may not overwinter. Persistence can be greatly increased if plants are insulated by snow cover.” Although we are in Zone 4 in the Lake Champlain region, a mix like this may only be marginally hardy here, especially when we have a winter with little snow. Always check that the varieties listed in a commercial mix are appropriate for our climate.

An example of this would be the perennial ryegrasses. It is preferable to select the ‘diploid’ rather than the ‘tetraploid’ varieties, which will increase winter hardiness. This terminology will usually be indicated on the seed tag. Tall fescue is best avoided, as it has palatability issues due to the presence of internal fungi that produce alkaloids. Tall fescue is often found in seed mixes developed for warmer climates. Meadow fescue, however, is a good choice as it is more digestible and is also more winter hardy.

One mix that we have had success with on our farm is a grazing mix described as ‘an excellent choice for high producing dairy livestock and grass-finished beef’. It contains 30% perennial ryegrasses, 30% grazing tolerant orchard grass, 25% meadow fescue, 7% medium red clover, 6% Alice white clover and 2% forage chicory. It’s a great all-around mix with grasses, clovers and the added bonus of the chicory.