Friday, March 27, 2015

Pasture Cropping Observations

I've been trying to figure out how the incorporate some form of pasture cropping on the farm for a while and last fall I had two areas that I drilled some winter wheat trying to learn a little bit more about the subject.  The largest area was about 10 acres of bermuda grass that I drilled with a mixture of  90 lb. of winter wheat and 7 lb. of crimson clover per acre.  The second area was in the weaning pen which is about 2 acres, where I only drilled 90 lb. of winter wheat per acre.  Both areas were planted on November 1. 

I didn't fertilize either area before drilling the wheat, although the weaning pen was grazed for about a week by some calves before it was planted.  When I top-dressed my wheat fields (January 27), I also top-dressed the weaning pen with about 40 lb. N per acre, but because I had crimson clover in the 10 acre area, I didn't top-dress it.
Weaning Pen -  February 15
On February 15, the wheat was nice and green and since I had to sort some cows, I went ahead and let them graze in the weaning pen for a couple of hours until they'd eaten about half of the top growth.     

Weaning Pen - March 25
Over 8 inches of growth
The wheat came out of dormancy a few weeks ago, and with the warmer temperatures and a little bit of moisture it has really started to grow in the weaning pen.  It's only two acres and I'm still experimenting, so I've decided to see how much grain I can get instead of grazing it.  If I had about 40 acres of this, I'd probably be grazing it until my pastures green up later this spring.
Pasture cropped hay field area - March 25
The 10 acres of wheat and crimson clover hasn't done as well as the wheat in the weaning pen.  There's some growth out there, but both the wheat and clover are a lot thinner than I'd like.  The clover is really disappointing, this is my second or third attempt at trying to grow clover or alfalfa in a pasture and I still can't seem to get it to grow.  I have a small patch of crimson clover growing next to a garden that I last planted about fifteen years ago that keeps coming back year after year but it's almost impossible for me to get it to grow anywhere else.  I was hoping that I could let the crimson clover go to seed in this pasture cropped area so that it would spread across the pasture, but I'm pretty pessimistic about that happening this year.

Next year, I think I'd put down some starter fertilizer before planting, I'll try planting earlier in the fall (mid-September to mid-October) to get more fall grazing, I'll wait to try growing clover again until I've grown a decent stand of wheat, and I might try adding something like turnips to the wheat.  I'm getting closer and closer to figuring out how to make pasture cropping work on the farm and hopefully some day soon I'll be pasture cropping on a much larger scale.


  1. When I was in my teens, my father had a lot of clover and alfalfa that we put up in hay every year. I'm guessing in the neighborhood of two hundred acres. It grew well but one hard winter was all it took to kill off most of it. That hard winter also coincided with two different people absconding off with semi loads of hay without paying and he pretty much quit the hay business at that point. Any hay he has now is custom baled for 50% of the bales.

    1. I don't know why I can't seem to get clover to grow on the farm, it doesn't really winter-kill it just doesn't seem to want to grow. Of course, it probably doesn't help that I'm trying to overseed clovers into existing pastures instead of planting a field of alfalfa into a prepared seedbed for hay production.

      As much as clover and alfalfa seed costs anymore, my overseeding experiments are starting to cost a pile of money.

      The one thing I think I'd hate more than buying hay is selling hay. I'd rather keep any hay I bale on the farm and turn it into beef before selling it.

  2. It seems to me when I have seen others no till clover and alfalfa into a pasture, they never get a very good stand. I wonder if the pasture grasses already there just deprive it of moisture and nutrients enough not to get going. Like you said, the best stands always seem to be into prepared beds.

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  4. Part of the thinking behind pasture cropping is that planting a cool season annual grass into a warm season perennial pasture takes advantage of the gap in growth when the warm season grasses are dormant. The warm season grasses in both of these areas are dormant after the first freeze in the fall and don't really start growing until April or May. So, I'd think that if there's enough moisture for wheat to grow, then crimson clover would also have enough moisture.

    Crimson clover is usually planted in fall and then it blooms around mid-April so it should fit into the window when the warm season grasses are dormant. Alfalfa is a different matter, I don't know if it could compete with the grass during the summer when the grass is actively growing.

    A lot of the people that talk about grazing talk about adding some clovers to your pastures to improve them, and claim that it's relatively easy to broadcast or no-till some clover into existing pastures, but I haven't had much luck and haven't really seen much clover growing in pastures (although I can get it to grow in the yard around the peach trees, etc.). It could be a matter of droughts, different types of grass, pH levels in my pastures, the types of clovers I've tried to grow, or something else completely.

    What's irritating is that I've been seeing more sweet clover growing in the ditches around the farm in recent years, that might be my next type of clover to try growing.