Pasture and Hayland Renovation for Western Washington and Oregon

Pasture and Hayland Renovation for Western Washington and Oregon

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Steve Fransen, Forage Research and Extension Agronomist, WSU, Marty Chaney, Pasture Management Specialist, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
This publication is designed to help you achieve a successful forage seeding whether you're a beginning or experienced forage producer. It's divided into sections so you can focus on the information you need. It contains recommendations for seed mixes and seeding techniques on pasture and hayland based on soils, climate, and intended use of the area.
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This publication is designed to help you achieve a successful forage seeding whether you’re a beginning or experienced forage producer. It’s divided into sections so you can focus on the information you need, whether this is basic species facts and seeding methods, or just a list of the latest recommended cultivars. It contains recommendations for seed mixes and seeding techniques on pasture and hayland based on soils, climate, and intended use of the area. For additional assistance, contact your local Cooperative Extension office, Natural Resources Conservation Service, or Conservation District office.

Before you begin, here are some general observations that apply to all sites.

  • First, evaluate the current management of the site. If you’re ready to reseed, then you must not like what is growing on the site. However, what is growing there now is what is best adapted to how the site is currently being managed. If the area is reseeded, but the management is not changed, then soon the site will return to its present condition. Management changes might include more cross-fencing to allow more intensive rotational management, moving current fences so that different soil types are not fenced together into one unit, or creating a winter confinement area to protect pastures when soils are saturated and the grass isn’t growing very fast. For more details on these techniques, refer to WSU Extension Bulletin 1713, Protecting Groundwater: Managing Livestock on Small Acreage, by Schmidt and Wolfley (1997).
  • Generally, don’t renovate more than 20% of the fields or acres in one year. Pasture or hayland forage will still be needed before the new seedings are ready to be used. Summer drought or winter flooding weather may damage or kill the new seeding before the plants have become established.
  • Evaluate the current soil status with a soil test. Contact your local Cooperative Extension, Natural Resources Conservation Service, or Conservation District office for information on how to take a soil test and where to have it analyzed. Does the soil need lime? Prior to forage renovation is an excellent time to apply lime or other elements. Oregon State University Extension Bulletin FG 63 gives fertilizer and liming recommendations for western Washington and Oregon forage fields. Because magnesium is often at low levels in these soils, you may wish to use dolomitic lime rather than agricultural lime.
  • Seed at the recommended time of year for the appropriate soil type. Seedlings are very easily damaged or killed by droughty topsoil, high soil temperatures, saturated soil, or frost heaving.
  • If the new seeding is on land recently converted from forest, a soil test is especially important, because many nutrients and minerals will be out of balance for good grass and legume growth. If no test is available, fertilize with a N:P:K:S fertilizer with a ratio 3:1:2:1 and a rate of no more than 75 units of nitrogen per acre per application. Apply lime at a rate of at least 5 tons per acre.
  • Species selection is critical to the long-term success of the planting. If the species are not adapted to the intended use or the site, the best seedbed preparation in the world won’t make the seeding successful. Use Table 1 in this publication to select species that are adapted to the soils in the field and the intended use. Soils are categorized by winter and summer drainage. If the slope is greater than 15%, the soil will tend to act like the soils in the next drier category in the table.
  • Multiple-species mixtures versus two-species mixtures: While at least one species in a multiple-species mixture will always grow no matter what the conditions, these mixtures are hard to manage for grazing or haying because the species often differ in palatability, maturity, adaptation to different soils, yield potential, and growing season conditions. Selective grazing, whereby we see patchy grazing, occurs when some species are avoided and other species are overgrazed in mixed stands.
  • Multiple-species mixtures can be managed successfully under intensive grazing management systems. For less intensive grazing systems and for hay, a simple mixture with only a single grass and a single legume species is recommended.
  • Seed tags will list minimum germination and purity. Germination is the percentage of seed in the bag that will germinate and grow. Purity is the actual amount of the species of seed you want to buy. Other materials may include chaff, dirt, and weed seeds. While the tag may say that no noxious weed seeds are present, many obnoxious weed seeds may be present. These are common weeds such as dandelion, dock, lambsquarters, or thistles. Buy the purest seed you can find. Don’t scrimp on pennies per pound; it will save dollars in aggravation later.
  • Kill the existing vegetation before reseeding. Plants with roots and leaves will always win the competition with seeds, so to favor the seeds, kill the undesirable plants. The existing vegetation can be killed either chemically or mechanically. If the field was in grass and is being reseeded directly back to grass, try to allow at least 4 weeks between initial plowing or discing and reseeding to allow breakdown of green vegetation.
  • Compacted soil layers should be broken up before reseeding. Almost all fields west of the Cascades that have deteriorated enough to need reseeding also have soil compaction problems in the crop rooting zone. Fields that have been grazed in the winter are the most likely to have a compaction problem. Compacted soil restricts root growth, access to soil nutrients, and summer moisture. Compaction also restricts water penetration through the soil, resulting in soggy, ponded fields during the winter and spring and prematurely droughty fields in the summer. Tools such as subsoilers or aerators work well for this purpose. Take care when using subsoilers in fields that contain drain tile as the tools may damage the tile.
  • Seeding depth is critical. Grass and legume seeds are extremely small; if buried too deep in the soil, they will run out of energy before they reach the surface (think of lettuce seed and how deep it’s planted in the garden). Never seed deeper than 1/4 inch. It’s better to seed too shallow than too deep, even if it means broadcasting seed directly on the soil surface. While a cultipacker seeder will do the best job of seeding, broadcasting seed followed by a light harrowing on a firm seedbed will usually give acceptable results.
  • A firm seedbed is essential. If the soil is too “fluffy,” it will dry out quickly and any small seedling perched on top of the soil clod will dry out and die. Packing the soil with a roller is best, but repeated harrowing or dragging before seeding (with a light harrowing afterwards) will also give acceptable results. Evidence of a firm seedbed is found when you can walk over the prepared seedbed and leave footprints no deeper than 1/4 inch. Firm seedbeds produce more even seedling emergence that covers the open soil more quickly.
  • Weed control (including undesirable grasses) at and after seeding is critical to the success of a new seeding. Ignoring this step will return you to pre-seeding condition, or worse. Control of problem perennial weeds, such as Canada thistle, before seeding is most quickly accomplished with a herbicide currently recommended for control. However, Canada thistle can be controlled by persistent clipping prior to flowering. Repeated tilling or mowing of the area throughout the growing season prior to seeding will reduce (but not necessarily eliminate) weed infestations.
  • The best method of weed control after seedling emergence is by clipping. Forage seedlings are too small and would be damaged if grazed at this time. Annual weeds generally grow faster than seedling grasses and legumes so they are taller. Clipping above the growing forage plants and removing the weed growing points stunts or kills the weedy plant. As the forage plants develop deeper and stronger root systems they soon can compete with the weeds. Young grasses and legumes may be susceptible to herbicide damage. In a new stand without legumes seeded, a wide range of herbicides can be used for broadleaf weeds. After these weeds are controlled, the legume can be overseeded. However, keep in mind that overseeding is not always successful, as the new legume seedlings are now competing with established plants. If grassy weeds are the problem, then these weeds should be controlled prior to seedbed preparation.
  • Before letting livestock out on your beautiful new pasture, use the “Pull Test” to determine readiness. Grab a single plant and give a sharp tug. If you can pull the plant out of the soil, so can livestock. Don’t let livestock graze new seedings until they pass the Pull Test. After a new seeding has passed the Pull Test, for the next 90 days allow livestock to graze only lightly in a pasture rotation system to ensure healthy root development. In the meantime, it’s fine to mow the field for hay or green feed to a 4” stubble height.

Selecting Your Species

Table 1 will help you select the adapted species for both your soil type and the intended use of the field. The most common uses include:

  • Grazing or grazing/haying. This field will be used primarily for grazing, but may also be used for one or more cuttings of hay during the summer.
  • Hay only. This field will not be used for grazing, only for haying of perennial species. (See WSU Extension Bulletin 1897).
  • Exercise or confinement area. This is a small field that will receive heavy use from livestock. This field is used primarily for livestock exercise or as a holding area, not for forage production. These are perennial species that will help reduce the amount of annual weeds common in these areas.
  • Temporary cover. This is any field with bare soil exposed which needs a temporary cover to protect it from erosion or to help suppress annual weeds. This cover can often be used as forage. Suggested species for this use can be found in Cogger, et al. (1997).

On steeper slopes (greater than 15%), soils will often behave like the “next drier” soil type (one step higher in Table 1), because moisture will drain from them more quickly.

Grass, Legume, and Grass Descriptions

For use by wildlife species, consult a wildlife habitat guide for the species of interest.
General note: Yield estimates are based on an average to high level of fertility. Low-fertility sites will have low yields for all species.

Perennial Grasses

1. Bentgrass (Agrostis spp.)

Characteristics—non-native perennial (most species), vigorous sod-former, with growing points occurring above the soil level.

  • Longevity—10+ years
  • Palatability for livestock—moderate
  • Yield—moderate
  • Fertility needs—low to moderate
  • Site adaptation—droughty to wet soils
  • Shade tolerance—moderate
  • Toxicities—none known
  • Uses—forage production (pasture); confinement areas
  • Seedling establishment—relatively rapid
  • Seedling vigor—good
  • Average number of seeds per pound—4,990,000
  • Other—does well on acid soils

2. Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis)

  • Characteristics—non-native perennial, sod-former, with growing point occurring at the soil level.
  • Longevity—10+ years
  • Palatability for livestock—high
  • Yield—moderate
  • Fertility needs—moderate to high
  • Site adaptation—well drained to moist soils
  • Shade tolerance—moderate
  • Toxicities—none known
  • Uses—forage production (pasture); confinement areas
  • Seedling establishment—slow
  • Seedling vigor—good
  • Average number of seeds per pound—2,150,000
  • Other—this species is not well-adapted to western Washington and Oregon because it is susceptible to rust and powdery mildew which reduces forage quality. It also requires a soil pH around 6.5 and a high level of fertility to remain competitive.
Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) – Top
Reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea)

3. Reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea)

  • Characteristics—non-native perennial, sod-former, with growing points occurring above the soil level.
  • Longevity—10+ years
  • Palatability for livestock—low to moderate
  • Yield—high
  • Fertility needs—high
  • Site adaptation—moist to saturated soils
  • Shade tolerance—low
  • Toxicities—plant indole alkaloids are related to low ani­mal acceptance
  • Uses—forage production (pasture, hay, and silage)
  • Seedling establishment—slow
  • Seedling vigor—slow
  • Average number of seeds per pound—506,000
  • Other—because of low seedling vigor, it is most successfully established with rhizome pieces. Vigorously discing and harrowing the field will rejuvenate sod-bound stands. Because reed canarygrass is so invasive, do not introduce it into fields where it is not already present. Palatability decreases rapidly after maturity, so it is best to maintain it between 4 and 12 inches in height.

4. Fine fescue (Festuca spp) such as Red fescue (Festuca rubra)

  • Characteristics—non-native perennial, bunchgrass to strong sod-former, with growing points occurring at the soil level, or slightly below.
  • Longevity—10+ years
  • Palatability for livestock—low to moderate
  • Yield—low
  • Fertility needs—low to moderate
  • Site adaptation—droughty to wet soils
  • Shade tolerance—moderate to high
  • Toxicities—endophyte fungus may be present in some turf varieties
  • Uses—confinement areas
  • Seedling establishment—moderate
  • Seedling vigor—moderate
  • Average number of seeds per pound—615,000
  • Other—rust (particularly in the autumn) and powdery mildew



Copyright 2014 Washington State University

Published Febuary, 2002

WSU Extension bulletins contain material written and produced for public distribution. Alternate formats of our educational materials are available upon request for persons with disabilities. Please contact Washington State University Extension for more information

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