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Farm Facts: Work on pastures and hay fields now

February 14, 2008

Now is the time to start improving your pasture and hay fields. A little work and money now can pay off in better livestock gains and better milk production. Clover in your pasture increases the productivity to where livestock gain or milk better, more pasture is available to take hay from and more livestock can be run per acre. Adding clovers to pasture is the cheapest and easiest way to increase your livestock profits. The easiest way to add clover to your fields is by overseeding. Make your plans to start overseeding clover right now. Early February is also the time to soil test and add fertilizer to your pasture and hay fields.

Overseeding Clover

Follow these guidelines and you will have good success with overseeding clover.

1. Sow early before grass growth starts ñ Feb. 5 until Feb. 25 is the best. After this you are better off to disc the field, broadcast the seed and cultipack it down or the other choice is to use a no-till drill and herbicides to slow down the grass.

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2. Sow 6-8 lbs. of red clover with one pound of Ladino clover. Use the high yielding and persistent varieties. In our U.K. test plots, the top four red clover varieties for yield and persistence through four years are: Certified Kenland, Freedom, Cinnamon, and Kenway. The worse decision you can make is to buy common or medium red because most of the time that will be the lowest yielder and seldom survives through the second year. In our U.K. test plots for white clover some of the best looking at this time include: Will, Regalgraze, Crescendo and Advantage.

3. Have pasture grazed close and keep cattle on the field to walk the seed in and to keep the grass from competing with the clover. A good rule of thumb is that if the grass is ankle high, it is too tall for overseeding so it should be disked before seeding or use no-till and a herbicide.

4. When cattle start to bite off the new clover, pull the cattle off the field and keep them off for four weeks to allow the clover to get a good hold.

5. Take a soil test and apply the needed lime, phosphate and potash. Donít use any nitrogen, not even DAP because a little nitrogen is enough to feed the grass and choke out the new clover. DAP is a good choice the second year, but never at overseeding time. For overseeding it probably is best to wait to apply fertilizer until the field has been mowed or grazed off up in the early summer. This of course will only be true if your fertility levels are at least in the medium range. If you have to overseed with a fertilizer buggy then use only potash and/or super phosphate.

Fertilize established pastures and hay fields in February

Failure to fertilize pastures and hayfields according to soil tests may not be the way to cut costs in cattle operations. Phosphorus, potash, lime and nitrogen may all be needed, but you will only know by taking a soil test. Take those samples now and plan a fertilizing program. We can get your soil test results in 7-10 days. Bring your samples to the U.K. Extension Office or ask your dealer to test your soil through our office.

I hope you will use a soil test, but for those of you who want a rule of thumb recommendation for established pastures here are my suggestions: for grass pastures apply 100 pounds of urea, 100 pounds of DAP and 50 lbs. of 60 percent potash per acre; for grass-clover mixed pastures - apply 100 pounds of DAP and 100 pounds of 60 percent potash per acre. Most of our fields will need three ton of lime per acre, if the fields haven't been limed in the past three years.

Now, when should you apply this fertilizer is the question I want to address. Most years it will pay you to put some fertilizer on in February and then again in May. The February fertilizer application will greatly improve yields and make your forage plants healthy for this growing season. You can benefit from a nitrogen application in May after your first harvest of grass hay fields and grass legume pastures. This will stimulate new growth for another good yield. I generally recommend only 100 lbs. of urea or 150 lbs. of ammonia nitrate for the May fertilization. At the current fertilizer nitrogen prices it may be hard to pencil out a May application. But it is easy to still get a good economic benefit from making a February fertilizer application.

For now the main thing to do is take a soil sample and apply the basic fertilizer and lime amounts needed to get good forage yields.

If you have questions about forage production or other agricultural topics. we are just a phone call away at 365-2447.

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