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Pasture Renovation Without Tillage

Lyle T. Stoltman
Small Farms Program Manager

A complete renovation of pastures which includes tillage and seeding is often unnecessary in my estimation. Although there may be a definite weed problem, forage production can be increased with improved pasture management.

  1. SOIL TESTING: A soil sample should be tested to determine the pH of the soil. Many soils in Western Washington are too acidic for optimum grass growth but perfect for many weed species. If lime is required to raise the pH, apply amount recommended before the rains start in the fall A soil test kit is included in your conservation plan.

  2. WEED CONTROL: Chemical spot spraying of broad-leaved weeds, regular clippings, hoeing, and/or hand pulling must be initiated o help the grasses compete for the space, moisture, and nutrients the weeds are using to become established. Non-selective herbicides such as Roundup may be used, or, broadleaf weed killers like 2,4,-D, Weed-B-Gone, or Weedone may be used. Follow all label instructions closely when using any pesticide.

  3. HAND SEEDING: In those areas where weeds have been controlled it important to get grasses growing quickly to prevent any reinvasions or soil erosion. Scratching the surface and broadcasting a handful of pasture type perennial ryegrass, clover, and orchardgrass should be adequate. Compact slightly with foot to get good seed-soil contact. Better results can be expected in the early fall if irrigation is not available.

  4. FERTILIZATION: After a close clipping in the spring apply composted manure at 5 tons/ac or a commercial fertilizer such as 21-0-0 or 10-20-20 at 2OO lbs./acre. Repeat clipping and fertilization every 8 weeks until September. Remember to drag pastures occasionally to break up manure piles and promote uniform grazing.

  5. CLIPPING OR GRAZING: Even after successful weed control it is essential to keep grasses clipped or grazed to maintain a vegetative growth habit. This is opposed to a reproductive growth stage where grasses head out and try to produce seed. When pasture grasses reach this stage they are often unpalatable and less digestible. It's also important to prevent overgrazing by livestock so that a good ground cover is maintained and weeds cannot become established. Move livestock off of pastures when grasses are grazed down to 3". If sparse growth occurs because of soil compaction, aerification or harrowing may be necessary. This will improve water infiltration and makes root proliferation much easier.