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Renovating hay and pasture fields; pasture and hay meeting

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By Steve Moore

If you have a less-than-productive grass pasture or hayfield, following a few simple renovation techniques could increase the field’s productivity.  Some things you can do include planting a legume such as red clover, controlling pests and adding lime and fertilizer. Be aware though, some techniques require you to start as early as the middle of February.
Adding legumes to pasture and hayfields has several benefits including higher yields, improved quality, nitrogen fixation and more summer growth.  Seeding legumes increases the total forage yield per acre.  Adding legumes also improves forage quality, compared to grass alone. This increases palatability, intake, digestibility and nutrient content, resulting in improved animal performance.   
Legumes also add, or “fix,” nitrogen in grass pastures and hayfields.   Alfalfa usually fixes the most, about 200 pounds per acre, while annual lespedeza fixes less, about 75 pounds, with clovers in the middle.  Another benefit:  Legumes make more growth during the summer than cool-season grasses.  Growing grasses and legumes together increases summer growth.
Use a soil test and plan to apply the recommended lime and fertilizer.  Legumes need higher soil pH and fertility levels than grasses.  Do not add nitrogen because it stimulates grasses, increasing competition with legumes.
Reduce vegetative cover on the soil to make it easier for legume seed to make contact with the soil.  The best way is to allow heavy grazing during early winter.
Select legumes based on the soil and your planned use of the forage.  For hay, alfalfa or red clover usually is best.  A red clover-ladino clover combination works well for both hay and grazing.  Ladino clover, red clover and/or annual lespedeza are good choices for pastures.
Select certified seed varieties that perform well and plan a method to insure good seed contact with the soil.  A simple, effective technique  for clovers is to broadcast seed on the soil surface in late winter, generally early February to March 15.  Soil freezing and thawing covers the seed.  Control grass and weed competition  thereafter by grazing or mowing until legume plants are 3 to 4 inches tall.  Stop grazing and mowing for several weeks so legumes will become well established. Afterwards, mow or graze the field on a schedule to keep legumes in good condition. 
Pasture and hay meeting
An Extension meeting has been scheduled to go over many of the strategies discussed in the previous article.  Pasture and hay improvement strategies for 2013 will be 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 28, at the Henry County Extension Office.
Dr. Garry Lacefield will discuss preparing for more and better pastures, followed by Dr. Jeff Lehmkuhler discussing some neat strategies to stretch hay supplies.   Contact the Henry County Extension Office at 845-2811 for details.