How to Spread Pasture Seed
There is no one recipe to follow when it comes to pasture seeding. It’s as unique as the land you’re working, which means several variables will impact how you choose to approach seeding your pastures. When you shop for pasture seed at Murdoch’s, here are a few things that we’ll ask to help you find the right seed and supplies.
What is the pasture like, and what’s it used for?
You know your land better than anyone else (unless, perhaps, the prior generation is still working it with you)! Your rotation, the type of seed, size of the pasture, exposure to sunlight, dryland or irrigated, slope, foraging animals, what’s currently growing, and any number of other variables will impact your decisions.
No matter what kind of pasture seeds you’re planting or how you’re planting them, they require the following circumstances:
- Seeds must adequately contact soil in order to germinate.
- Seeds need a weed-free environment where they aren’t competing for resources.
- Seeds need plenty of water.
- Once these seeds have created a pasture, their plants need plenty of nutrients to continue to grow for many years to come.
Are you preparing the pasture by tilling or using no-till methods?
As with anything else, there are pros and cons to each method. Conventional tilling is well-established within the agriculture community. This includes using plows, discs, and harrows to maximize seed-to-soil contact by turning over a fresh surface. Vegetation is incorporated into the soil and the nutrients are returned as well. Equipment is readily available, but it can be expensive to rent or buy for working smaller pastures, in which case a garden tiller would do the trick. Another advantage to tilling is that the soil temps tend to warm quicker in the spring, extending the growing season. Tilling is also a preferred method for organic production because it has the added benefit of weed control without synthetic herbicides.
No-till pasture seeding is another option that is particularly useful if your goal is avoiding soil erosion or over-seeding. In no-till management you disperse seed without disturbing the soil; the vegetation remains on the soil surface. The con here is that seed-to-soil contact is reduced, and your efforts to germinate new seedlings are also reduced. Letting animals onto the seeded land can improve seed-to-soil contact as their hooves and pads press the seeds down. Pros include better water absorption, potentially higher levels of organic matter, and less required fertilizing. Plus. no-till pastures contain thriving soil microbes, fungi and worms, and suffer less soil compaction. No-till pastures do tend to require weed control applications.
What kind of equipment are you using?
The most basic and readily available seeding method is broadcast. In smaller pastures, you can seed using a handheld or push spreader. Larger broadcast spreaders can also attach to ATVs, trucks, or small tractors. As you might imagine, results of broadcast seeding are best when the pasture has been tilled. There are other tools like cultipackers and 3-point rakes that can help press seed into the soil when working larger pastures, but for smaller tilled pastures you can hand rake the seed gently. Broadcast seeding:
- Is the most economical approach to seeding pastures
- Works on all types of terrain, including rough ground and steep slopes
- Requires that you take care to evenly disperse the seed
- Can increase the needed seeding rate
- Does not allow you to control seeding depth
If you have access to an ATV or tractor, then cultipack planters are an option for you. In broadcast seeding, you’re flinging seed. With a cultipack planter, you’re dropping it onto a tilled soil surface from a hopper and then a roller presses it into the soil. It can save time, but you’re still limited with planting depth and is subject to how firm the soil is.
Lastly, drill seeding is commonly considered the most efficient way to seed a large pasture in the ag community, but it does require expensive equipment and a tractor. It is also the most flexible method because it can be used regardless of whether you till – it’s just that there are different types of drills for tilled and no-till pastures. A seed drill mechanically opens a furrow in the soil, places a seed in the soil (at a depth you can control), and covers the seed all in a single pass. In fact, you can control the rate of application, depth, and row spacing with a seed drill. Pasture seeding with a seed drill can improve crop yield, which is a major win, but the drill cannot be used on varied terrain and it struggles with “fluffy” seeds.
Stop by a Murdoch’s Ranch & Home Supply store today. We’d love to help.