Field to pasture

Asked May 30, 2016, 9:03 PM EDT

I have a 5-7 acre field that was used for corn last year. The stalks have since been cut and the weeds have grown over. I was hoping to turn the field into a pasture for horse grazing. My plan was to spray an herbicide, when the weeds died I would then till under and plant an appropriate pasture mix. Can you suggest an herbicide? Any other advice is also welcomed.

Union County Pennsylvania

1 Response

A Horse Educator from Minnesota has an answer to a similar question:

Establishing a horse pasture takes time, patience, and resources. When establishing a horse pasture, site planning, soil fertility, seedbed preparation, species selection, weed control, and grazing management are important step to take to ensure your pasture establishment is successful and productive for years to come. Site Planning Topography and Geography of Your Pasture. Individual pastures should not include steeply sloping hillsides, wet lands, soil types that vary greatly; paddocks that are oriented up and down hillsides. Pasture Size. Pastures should be large enough to handle your stocking rate, acreage layout, and grazing system. Rectangular shaped pastures tend to better suit horses as they encourage exercise. The stocking rate (how many horses your pasture can handle) averages 2 acres per horse, however, soils type, grazing management, and weather conditions can influence the stocking rate. Sacrifice Paddock. Dry lots, or sacrifice paddocks, provide an opportunity to move horses off the pasture during wet, dry, or times of needed pasture rest. Sacrifice paddosck can vary in size but should provide a minimum of 400 square feet per horse. The size should be increased proportionally as the number of horses increase. Sacrifice paddocks usually include a shelter/shed, water source, and ample area to feed hay free choice. Gate Placement and Fencing. Gates should be placed in corners closest to the direction of travel. Gates should be large enough to get equipment and several horses through at once. Avoid placing gates in low areas where water may pool. When selecting a fencing system(s), consider the BASIC rules; budget, appearance, safety, installation and containment. Water. Clean, fresh water is a requirement for horses. Place waterers in areas where filling and cleaning is convienent, and if possible, where multiple pastures have access. Safety and Common Sense. Design pastures that are safe, work with your pasture size and shape, and make sense for you, your horses, and your farm. Soil Fertility Soil fertility should be determined prior to establishing the seedbed through a soil test (contact your local Extension Office or Agricultural Cooperative for a soil test). Low fertility, and pH, are major causes of seedling failures. It is best to apply and incorporate the fertilizer during tillage, the soil test will determine how much, if any, you need. Seedbed Preparation A firm seedbed is needed when establishing a pasture to promote soil and seed contact. The most common seedbed preparation involves tillage of the soil. Tillage serves several purposes, including eliminating existing vegetation, controlling weeds, aerating (loosening) the soil, incorporating fertilizer and lime, and preparing and firming the seedbed. There are several factors to consider in seedbed preparation: Planting Depth. A seed requires both moisture and oxygen to germinate. The seed should be covered with enough soil to provide moist conditions for germination but not so deep that the shoot cannot reach the surface. Only a small amount of soil is needed to cover the seed and keep it from drying out. Large-seeded crops can be planted 1 to 1½ inches deep. Small seeded crops should not be planted more than ¼ to ½ inch deep. Planting Methods On prepared seedbeds, planting seeds with grain drills or brillion seeders are recommended. If small seeded crops are planted, the grain drill should be equipped with a small seed attachment to ensure accurate seeding rates and depths. Brillion seeders are ideal for small seeded crops. Seed can also be no-till drilled or slit seeded into established pastures where partial renovation is required. No-till or slit seeding results in minimal disturbance of the soil, and works best in existing, but thin pasture stands. It is usually possible to hire people to do the tillage and plating operations (custom work). This is generally much cheaper than buying the equipment yourself (especially if you only have a few acres). The price for this is service varies based upon location, pasture size and availability. Species Selection There is no “silver bullet” or single specie that is correct for every horse pasture. Most forages can be divided into two general categories: (1) grasses and (2) legumes. Grasses can further be divided into warm season grasses, cool season grasses, sod forming, and bunch grasses. Cool season grasses actively grow in spring, early summer, and fall, and are not as productive during the heat of the summer. Bunch grasses tend to grow in “bunches”, while sod-forming grasses usually cover the entire soil surface. When selecting pasture forages, try to include both types of grasses. Legumes (alfalfa and clovers) can add nutrition to grass pastures, and reduce the amount of nitrogen needed (legumes fix nitrogen from the atmosphere). However, if seeding a mixed pasture (grasses and legume), there are no weed control options via herbicides. Examples of bunch grasses include orchardgrass and timothy; examples of sod forming grasses include Kentucky bluegrass, smooth bromegrass, reed canarygrass, and tall fescue; while examples of legumes include alfalfa, red clover, white clover, and birdsfoot trefoil. Grazing management can be more difficult with mixed species stands. A higher level of management is required in a mixed pasture as horses tend to graze new, tender shoots, and may exhibit selective grazing. However, mixed stands are recommended as they offer a wide rage of maturity, yield thought the season, and usually a more consistant feed source. Purchasing Seed. The cost of seed can be a significant factor. The cost varies tremendously by the species planted, and the variety planted. Regardless of the cost, purchasing and planting high quality seed (higher germination and free of weed seeds and foreign material) will result in a better pasture. The information on seed quality can be found on the seed tag. Cover Crops. Cover crops are fast growing annual (grows for one year) species that reduce weed pressure and erosion. Cover crops are commonly planted when establishing a new hay field, and can be used when establishing a new pasture. Oat (1 bu/A) and Italian Ryegrass (2 to 4 lbs/A) are common cover crops, and can be grazed. The one drawback to using cover crops with a pasture seeding is dealing with, and removing the cover crop forage before the forage becomes to mature or goes to seed. For examples of seeding recommendations, visit your local Extension Office or Agricultural Coop. Weed Control Tillage to prepare the seed bed will remove most weeds. Herbicides can be used to control weeds when using no-till, or tillage does not remove all weeds. Always read and following labeled directions, including planting and grazing restrictions. Control weeds after seeding by mowing, or grazing for very short periods of time (sometimes called flash grazing). Mowing and grazing encourages plant growth, and can also decreases competition from weeds (mowing) and other existing forages. Keep in mind that most herbicides control either grasses or broadleaves (i.e. alfalfa and clover). If you have a mixed pasture (both grasses and legumes like alfalfa and clovers), there are no herbicide options that will control unwanted weeds and leave both legumes and grasses. When To Graze Overgrazing newly seeded areas is a major cause of seeding failures. Grazing a newly seeded pasture too soon can result in damage from hoof traffic and accidental removal of seedlings by aggressive grazing. Seedlings need sufficient time to establish roots, usually 6 weeks after emergence. Mowing or flash grazing several times prior to regular grazing can encourage plant and root growth. Introducing horses to lush pasture gradually will reduce the chance of laminitis and colic. Once the pasture is established, divide the pasture into several paddocks and begin rotational grazing. Grazing Management After your pasture is established, following the below recommendations will help maintain the productivity of your pasture: 1. Do not overstock or overgraze (average stocking rate is 2 acres per horse) 2. Have, and use if necessary, a sacrifice paddock 3. Rotationally graze (see below for more information) 4. Allow established pastures a recovery period after grazing, approximately 30 days 5. Soil test every 3 years 6. Fertilize if needed 7. Mow and drag pastures 3 to 4 times a year 8. Control weeds ROTATIONAL GRAZING Rotational grazing is a practice that, if done correctly, can help increase your pasture productivity. Rotational grazing is dividing the pasture area into several small paddocks. When a horse finds an area in the pasture that has the type of forage they prefer, they will usually keep on grazing this area and disregard the rest of the pasture. Because of the continuous grazing, the preferred species or areas become weak and can't compete with less desirable plants such as weeds. Rotationally grazing your pasture should also allow appropriate rest periods. In fact, the key to pasture productivity with any rotational grazing design is providing adequate rest periods for pasture recovery and being flexible depending on the season. For example, in spring, only 2 weeks of rest per paddock may be needed, in summer 6 weeks may be needed, and in fall 4 weeks may be needed. Generally speaking, grass growth potential is high in spring, low in summer, and moderate in fall. With fewer paddocks, or during the summer months, horses may need to be held in a sacrifice paddock. In these situations hay supplementation will most likely be needed. Remember, resting the pasture is essential and allows the forages to store carbohydrates (energy) in their roots and regrow vigorously. Rotational grazing also contributes to better manure management. Instead of one or two big dropping areas, there are several smaller ones throughout the pasture. Smaller manure piles dry and break up faster, reducing fly numbers and odor. Dragging the paddock helps break up the piles, dries out the manure, and distributes nutrients back to the pasture. Dragging should be done when horses are rotated out of the paddock. FENCING OPTIONS Good, safe fences are essential for rotational grazing. Horse owners should follow the BASIC rules, which are Budget, Appearance, Safety, Installation and Containment. The external fence (around the entire pasture) should be permanent and safe (i.e. no barbed wire). Electric fencing is generally the most economical, especially for internal subdivisions. Consult a reputable dealer with experience with horse fencing for more information. Contacting your Extenson Office can provide you with additional recommendations specific to your area.

008_thumb Krishona Martinson

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Thanks, G.