Farm Facts...

Frost Seeding Pasture Techniques

by Marilyn Loft Houck

The cold nights and warmer days in Wisconsin in March signal the perfect time for tapping Maple trees for their wonderful sap and for Frost Seeding in pastures.

At Fancy Creek Llamas we have Frost Seeded our major pastures for multiple years now and have seen good results. Not only do we seed the pasture areas but we fertilize during the same application. We work with our local agricultural center to determine, via soil sampling, what the pasture soil needs regarding nutrients. Early spring fertilizing and seeding works well even with a small amount of snow on the ground. Frost Seeding and fertilizing is done right on top of existing grasses. There is no need to work up the soil with disking or any other method of tilling. The granular fertilizer that is applied is very sensitive to moisture so that any snow or thawing of frozen ground during the day causes it to “melt” into the ground. Depending upon the amount of frost in the ground and changeable spring weather conditions Frost Seeding sometimes must be delayed until the soil surface is solid enough for seeding equipment to be used without damaging ruts and tire tracks.

The grass seeds themselves get moved around and turned over during the freezing and thawing process over a day or so and end up working their way into the soil. Seeds have a kind of sense of which way to turn over to make their way into soil! Amazing, isn’t it? We Frost Seed a perennial rye.

We complete our Frost Seeding operation with two methods. The ag center sends out a large truck with balloon tires very early in the morning to fertilize our larger pasture. The balloon tires prevent the truck from creating ruts in the pasture. The ag center also supplies us with a pull behind mechanism in which they prepare the seed and the fertilizer mixed together for our smaller pasture areas. We pull this applicator with our own tractor. We do not own the equipment for Frost Seeding.

If you are establishing new pasture be aware of choosing gates that are wide enough to accommodate large machinery such as a fertilizer truck! Gates less than 14 feet in length become a real stumbling block to getting necessary machinery into locations where they are needed.

The result we have seen with the Frost Seeding technique is a healthier and a more lush pasture. Good pasture for your animals provides the vitamins, minerals, and roughage they need for a healthy life. A good pasture can save you money on hay costs because the sturdy pasture should last into the fall longer and delay feeding much of the precious hay needed for winter.

Pasture grasses other than perennial rye are sewn at different times of the growing season. Check with your ag center regarding when and how to sew pasture. Our pastures are a mixture of grasses. Orchard Grass, a clumpy grass that begins showing life at the end of April… about 15 days earlier than brome. It grows vigorously from April through June. It goes more or less dormant through July and begins growing again in August. (Your lawn grasses do the same thing.) Smooth Brome grass, a sod type of grass that begins to grow vigorously in May and peaks early in July. It goes down in yield after that point. The aforementioned Perennial Rye, a sod type of grass will show good growth most of the season. Alfalfa, only a small amount of grazing type alfalfa with a deep crown that will not be damaged by animal traffic. A busy agri-center can supply this type of alfalfa seed and blend it with other chosen grasses. We do not use much alfalfa in our pastures because camelids prefer grasses other than alfalfa.

Our research some years back indicated avoidance of timothy in camelid pastures. Apparently timothy has a tendency to be a potential kidney problem in these animals. Fescue is also to be avoided.

Pasture maintenance at Fancy Creek Llamas includes keeping the pasture clean of burdock and other prickly weeds. We mow the pasture around the end of June to eliminate the seed heads of nasty weeds. You will want to watch your pasture to see when the bad stuff appears to be getting ready to go to seed. Mow it before it goes to seed. Camelids seem to enjoy the grasses at about 3 to maybe 6 inches tall...that must be when it is most tender and tasty. Grass that is too tall is not as appealing because it is taller, older and probably somewhat bitter in taste.

We hope you find this information helpful for healthy pasture management.
Contact us if you have more questions on pasture management.