Frost seeding can help boost spring forage production

The 2018 drought took its toll on pastures all around the Ozarks – thankfully, the rains did come back, but many farms were left with pastures in need of a little TLC.

Through frost seeding, farmers can revive their pastures even in the wintertime.

Frost seeding is a planting method that is typically implemented from February to early March and takes advantage of the natural freezing/thawing of the soil to get good seed to soil contact.

While it is a fairly simple method, doing some research and preparation beforehand can ensure frost seeding success.

Frost seeding can be done both on bare dirt sections in pastures, or in standing forage.

“This no-till method works seeds into the ground as the soil freezes and thaws during the transition between winter and spring,” Jill Scheidt, field specialist in agronomy with the University of Missouri Extension said. “Of course, better stands are accomplished by drilling the seed into the ground due to better seed-to-soil contact, but for uneven landscapes and difficult to navigate pastures, frost seeding is a great option.”

Legumes are often the forage of choice for frost seeding due to their ability to withstand cooler temperatures.

“Legumes, like clover, work well,” Scheidt explained. “Clover pairs especially well with cool season grass, like fescue. Clover adds a higher-quality forage to the mix and is one of the solutions for diluting fescue toxicosis, simply by allowing the livestock to consume less fescue in each bite.

She also cautioned against having too many legumes in a pasture, as this can lead to bloat in cattle. A forage ratio with 30 percent legumes is usually a safe bet, and still improves pasture quality and lowers the risk of fescue toxicity.

Having a soil test done prior to frost seeding will help producers give their tired pastures the proper TLC.

“Soil testing is the first step to any pasture improvement program. To establish and maintain legumes, soil pH needs to read at least 6.0 pH. Phosphorus is also needed for persistence of legumes – University of Missouri recommends soil test phosphorus levels read at least 30 pounds per acre to establish and maintain a stand,” Scheidt said.

Once the frost seeded forage begins growing, producers need to carefully manage grazing in order to truly revive their pastures.

“Allow young plants time to grow before turning cattle in to graze; four to five weeks is ideal,” Scheidt advised. “Consider implementing rotational grazing to prevent overgrazing and allow forages time to regrow.”

Dr. John Jennings, forage specialist with the University of Arkansas, suggested producers turn-in livestock when the legume is about 6 to 10 inches in height and remove the livestock when it has been grazed down to 3 inches. Rotational grazing will allow for more total yield produced over the growing season and will help in maintaining the legume stand.


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