January 15, 2003 | By: Laura Skillman

Excessive moisture in the spring followed by drought and high temperatures during the summer left many Kentucky pastures in need of renovation.

“Many farmers went out with the intent last year to renovate pastures, but then the rain set in and across the state it became pretty wet,” said Garry Lacefield, forage specialist with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.

As a result, many pastures weren’t renovated or farmers weren’t able to seed as much as they had planned. Then summer came, and with it very dry weather resulting in some pastures that contained legumes being weakened because of stress from lack of moisture and overgrazing.

Because of the reduced amount of legumes and the improvements legumes can provide in pasture, serious consideration should be given to renovating pastures this year, Lacefield said.

There are seven million acres of grasslands in Kentucky, which is the base of pastures in the state. By adding legumes to those grasses, producers can increase production and provide a high quality feed. Additionally, legumes can transform nitrogen from the air into a form that plants can use to make protein and other nitrogen containing compounds.

Many techniques can be used to add legumes to grass pastures including overseeding, tillage followed by overseeding, chemical treatment followed by overseeding, and seeding with drills and renovators.

Whatever method is used, the following steps can help increase the chances of success when renovating a pasture, Lacefield said during the recent Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association annual meeting.

The first step is to test the soil and apply lime, phosphorus and potash as needed. If possible, apply lime several months ahead. Also, do not use nitrogen when renovating into grass fields because it will increase the grass competition with the legume seedlings.

A second key is to suppress competition from existing grass by heavy grazing, tillage or herbicides. Seedlings can be made with no-till drills. Broadcasting seeds of lespedeza, white clover or red clover over the ground often will result in a good stand if seeding is done in late winter, the grass has been grazed extremely short and the proper fertility is supplied.

Lacefield also advises producers to use certified seed at the recommended rates. If it is not pre-inoculated, inoculate seed with proper nitrogen-fixing bacteria just before seeding.

Finally, renovated fields should be kept closely grazed until the livestock begin biting off the young legumes. At that time, remove the livestock and allow the legume to become established. The time needed is dependent on what legume was planted.

Once the stand is established it must be managed properly to maintain a grass-legume balance. Legumes can disappear in fields because of inadequate fertility, improper clipping management, improper grazing, insect damage and weather related factors such as a drought.



Garry Lacefield, (270) 365-7541 ext. 202