What should I do with my damaged pastures?

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By Matt Booher, Augusta County Extension Agent, 
Animal Science and Travis Bunn, Patrick County Extension 
Agent, Animal Science

Officials have been getting many questions about torn – up pasture fields. Below are a few quick thoughts on how to treat or repair these areas.


Area #1: This type of area is typically out in the body of the pasture, away from gates and waters. There may be some light pugging 1-inch or less deep and, with the wet year, things may look worse than they ever have for that location. Most of these areas should recover fine on their own. They may look bad, but no lasting damage has been done to either plant crown or soil structure.  In most pastures, these areas have probably been grazed down harder, which could represent a good opportunity to frost seed some clover. Clover can be first seeded any time from December through February, but the fields need to have little residue and good soil contact.

Area# 2: These areas were hit a little harder with deeper pugging an inch or two deep and may have sustained some damaged to plants crowns. There is no exact science in determining which plants will come back, however, if the plant crown has been mashed into a pulp and buried at the bottom of a 2-inch pug, it is likely to die. Some of the area may be bare ground with no cover, and on some, you will see that the damage is only skin deep and that areas still live plants at or in the soil surface. It would probably be good idea to sow some clover (2 lb. /ac of whit, or 5 lbs for red), annual ryegrass (3-5 lb. /ac), or forage crabgrass (2.5 lb./ac) in an attempt to thicken up the stand / reduce weed pressure. A drill would work best, but if nothing else broadcast seed at 1.5X rate.  A perennial species such as a tall fescue may be included, but the establishment may be poor. Seeding can be done anytime in late winter or spring.

Area# 3 is pretty much destroyed. No plant could sustain the beating and pugging this area took and the soil structure itself is damaged.  The best thing to do here is probably plan on disking, rolling and replanting at full seeding rate. After tillage, it will be key to create a pretty smooth, firm seedbed before seeding.  If using a drill to sow, do not plant seed any deeper than ¼” deep.  If broadcasting, take a roller or a drag back over the seed to get a little better seed- to-soil contact. It is probably important to get a quick establishing annual in place to cut compete weeds. Forage crabgrass (5 lbs./ac) and foxtail millet (24 lb./ac) will provide decent summer forage as well as hopefully smothering out some weeds, and can be planted anytime in late winter or early spring for this type of application. You could also choose to seed a spring oat (32-64 lb. /ac) or annual ryegrass (5-10 lb. /ac), which would provide good spring growth. Because they tend to play out when things get hot, their best use is probably as a nurse crop to help- get a slower stabling species such as a fescue started.

One idea that may work for some, the VT McCormick Farm has been experimenting with unrolling several days- worth of hay at a time, and using temporary electric fencing to limit access.  Each day they move the step-in posts and wire to expose a couple rows of hay and block cattle from the remaining hay.  They have found that this not only results in an overall time savings, but it also allows them to put out hay when it is dry or frozen and avoid tearing up fields when it is muddy. They say they see no more hay refusal even when the hay gets wet, and calves can creep under the wire to get first chance at the good stuff.