A livestock producer needs the right keys to unlock the secrets of establishing quality pastures, says Keith Johnson, Purdue Uni-versity extension forage specialist.

He lists six keys to successful pasture establishment: “The choice of a site is important, as is the soil on that site and the forage a producer chooses to plant,” he says. “They also need to think about the seeding process, weed control and the first use of that for-age.”

Johnson will address each point during the Heart of America Grazing Conference, Jan. 24-25 in Mount Vernon, IL.

When selecting a site, consider its proximity to your homestead, water and electricity, and whether the site is prone to flooding, Johnson advises. Soil composition and the types of forage it can grow also should factor into the decision.

“We have to think about the choice of the forage as it relates to establishing pastures,” he says. “First of all, what are the soils that we have selected for the pasture in regard to the forage to be grown? As an example, alfalfa is not very well adapted to a poorly drained site. Then we need to think about whether we make our own blend of grasses and legumes or whether we buy pre-blended mixtures.”

While pre-blended products might work well in some pastures, they aren’t ideal for every field.

“I have several concerns about just picking a pre-blended mixture off the shelf,” says Johnson. “First, are the right species in that bag? In other words, if I don't need the 5% lespedeza, then why have the 5% lespedeza in the seed bag? Are the species in the right ratio? Some seed is very small, and if you have a 5% contribution of that seed by weight, it could actually end up being 30% out in the field because the seed is so small. And, lastly, you lose control because you are not making the choice of the varieties that are in that mixture.”

Seeding too late or at the wrong depth can hamper stand establishment. Johnson urges producers not to sow small forage seed like orchardgrass or alfalfa deeper than ¼”.

Pasture establishment issues continue even after a first crop is ready for harvest.

“We need to allow these small plants to get established so they can take the stress of grazing,” he says. “We do not want to go out and graze an 8” stand down to 1” or 2” and not allow recovery. I would suggest that we graze only 50% of the forage that might be out there the first time to further allow that plant to establish.

“Preferably, instead of grazing first use, we probably ought to consider baling it as hay or making a silage crop when soil condi-tions permit that to happen.”

The conference will be held at the Mount Vernon Holiday Inn. Advance registration, through Jan. 12, is $50 for both days or $30 for one day of the conference. Registration after Jan. 12 is $60 for both days and $40 for one day. Registration includes a din-ner, lunch and program materials.
For more information, contact Justin Sexten, University of Illinois extension beef specialist, at 618-242-9310 or sex-ten@uiuc.edu.