It’s time to frost seed your pastures if they’re exhibiting symptoms of wear and tear, such as open ground, more weeds than grass, overgrazing last fall, or mud damage this winter. Frost seeding is a simple and economical approach to rehabilitate overgrazed or weather-damaged livestock pastures and hayfields without tilling or disturbing existing grasses and legumes.
The seeds are “drilled” into the earth as the soil freezes and thaws—approach natures of no-till sowing. All you need are a few winter days with temperatures above freezing during the day and below freezing at night. Of course, you’ll need seed and a way to distribute it.
A hand-cranked seeder can seed small pastures of less than 5 acres. The seed is disseminated in 6- to 12-foot widths depending on the seeder and the source.
Hand-cranked broadcast seeders are available in a variety of sizes. You can use a smaller backpack with a capacity of 25 to 60 pounds of seed or an inexpensive shoulder-strapped bag. It’s an excellent way to keep small pastures and paddocks in great shape so that your expensive cattle may thrive.
If your pastures are larger than 5 acres, a broadcast seeder that attaches to an ATV or tractor may be necessary.
Selection of Seeds
Most pastures are sown with cool-season grasses and legumes (such as fescue, rye, orchard grass, and timothy) (such as clovers and alfalfa). Grasses provide carbs and some proteins to grazing livestock of all kinds, and protein from legumes is of higher quality.
For frost-seeding legumes, pastures that double as hay fields are ideal.
The most successful frost sowing seed is legumes, with medium Red Clover topping the pack. White Clover and Ladino Clover are also good choices, but they aren’t as hardy as Red Clover. On the other hand, Red Clover is not a long-lived perennial legume, and red Clover reseeding every three to four years will ensure that your pastures are always stocked with high-quality legumes.
Seed grasses and legumes separately if you think you’ll need them both. Because grass seed is smaller and does not disperse as far as larger legume seeds, the results are inconsistent when combined.
Seeds of all types are costly. Because you are frost seeding over the established pasture, you may be tempted to use less seed per acre than recommended. Studies demonstrate that seeding the required amounts for prepared seedbeds results in higher stand densities when frost seeding existing pastures.
This is especially critical for legumes. Remember that your seeding costs are minimal—your time and an inexpensive broadcast seeder—which should overcome your aversion to spreading the suggested pounds per acre.
After Frost Seeding, Grazing
Controlling grass and weed competition is essential for establishing legumes with frost sowing. Grazing can be beneficial to frost sown grasslands. Light grazing helps avoid weed competition from suffocating the freshly hatched seedlings’ growth by allowing the earth to open up to the sun.
The ideal grazing program would begin with goats and end with cattle, although any herd can benefit from mild grazing. Mowing will also assist in the establishment of the new stand.
The Most Appropriate Pasture for Your Animals
If you’re raising cattle or horses, pastures with a balanced mix of grasses and legumes are ideal. Legume-rich grasslands will also help pastured hens.
Sheep and hogs prefer clover pastures, but fields with too much alfalfa can cause bloat. Goats over legumes prefer the grass.
Alpacas and llamas, for example, require a grass pasture, and they aren’t true ruminants, and beans can upset your stomach. Camelid-specific pasture mixes are available for purchase.