Wednesday, June 19, 2024

What does it take to make pasture forages to enhance fertility ?


Start with the soil.    A pasture should be given the same fertilization care that you give to any row crop.    In fact, deep green colored pastures with a variety of plant species (grasses, legumes, forbs and brassicas) rotated so that they are vegetative (ie, not making seed heads and drying out) will produce as much harvestable feed nutrition as you can get from virtually any other crop (including corn silage).

The best pastures have “aerobic” soil—ie, there is enough root mass and organic structure to the soil that air can enter and rainfall can penetrate, keeping all the beneficial soil biology alive.    The best stimulant to soil biology also happens to be grazing animals across the surface, leaving behind saliva, urine and manure that is the natural food for the sort of soil life that transports nutrients into the root zone of whatever you are growing.

Consider the value of legumes in feeding atmospheric nitrogen into the root zone as well.    Clover (which starts fixing nitrogen in the year of seeding) is particularly good at this, as well as cows see clover as a tasty delicacy.   Alfalfa is less palatable in pastures, tends to lignify in summer heat, and does not produce nitrogen until the second year;  however, as alfalfa stands run out, interseeding grass and clover into them can transition a hay field into a pasture without tillage.    

Forbs are beneficial herbs that cows will eat selectively as their systems crave the minerals they are known to scavenge from the subsoil.    Likewise brassicas with their heavy top growth and often edible bulbs can be interseeded in late summer into existing pastures to provide an extra feed punch for a final fall pass.

The most vital grass seed breeding has been ongoing in Europe (where grass is used for hay, rather than alfalfa) and the varieties Byron Seeds brings from there have nutrient energy and protein profiles that exceed the best of alfalfas grown here.     As the alfalfa seed industry has peaked here, you will find grasses ready to take its place for either hay or haylage or balage harvesting systems as well as for pasturage.    

As all forage crops remove calcium, you can enhance soil fertility by using gypsum (sulfur) lime as a periodic fertilizer (perhaps every five years).

No comments:

Post a Comment