Pasture repair after a muddy winter

By Dean Kreager, OSU Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator, Licking County

By now hay feeding is complete and animals are enjoying the green grass instead of trying to find a way to get to the other side of the fence. How much damage was done in the areas hay was being fed this winter?

Pugging is the damage to sod created by animals’ hooves. Studies have shown that pugging damage can reduce forage productivity by up to 80% or more in severely damaged areas. For those who like to be scientific, there is a published system of scoring the damage based on Australian research and described by the University of Kentucky. A chart is available online. With that system, you can look at the percent of damage within one square foot along with the depth of the damage from zero to over 4 inches. These measurements should be repeated in several locations to find an average. Together these numbers are used to characterize the damage as very light, light, moderate, severe, or very severe.

The repair plan would range from letting nature take care of the damage on its own, for the lightly damaged areas, up to a complete renovation on the very severely damaged areas. Complete renovation would only be needed in areas where almost all the sod was destroyed unless your goal is to establish an improved seed mix to the pasture. Areas considered moderate to severe in damage may need some combination of harrowing, seeding and cultipacking to level the soil and get new plants started ahead of early summer weed pressure. The goal would be to do this without destroying existing sod.

Seeding can be done with a no till drill, conventional drill, or broadcast. If using a drill, making passes in two directions will encourage a thicker stand. Be mindful of seeding depth and keep it a quarter inch or less. Pulling a cultipacker across areas that were broadcast seeded or planted with a conventional drill that was not able to get seed into the soil will encourage seed to soil contact and will help germination and establishment. The Ohio Agronomy Guide is a great resource for determining seeding rates and is especially helpful with rates when mixing multiple species. Contact your local Extension Office for assistance.

One thing we do know is that mother nature will allow something to grow even in the most damaged areas. This could be common ragweed, cocklebur, and goose grass but something will grow. Areas with little sod remaining provide a great opportunity for weed seed, that may have been dormant in the soil for years, to germinate. Allowing heavily damaged areas to take care of themselves may produce more weed issues in the future.

To get the plants you desire to grow you need the right soil conditions and the right seed to be present. In feeding areas, you would think the soil fertility would be good but that is not always the case. Additionally, nutrients from animal manure are not going to fix soil pH problems. Taking a soil test should be the first step before renovation.

We are moving toward the end of the window for spring seeding so there is a sense of urgency. Remember that perennial grasses will need at least 60 days to form a good root system. That would mean planting that occurs at the beginning of June would need to count on a cool damp July for the plants to develop. Ideally any seeding should be completed by early May and even sooner in southern Ohio. If you can’t complete the project now, waiting until August may be a good idea. Conditions for starting cool season grasses are normally much better as we head into fall. If the pH on your soil test is below 6.0, this would also allow for a lime application to be completed and have time to work over the summer.

If the renovation needs to be delayed, there is still another option. To get the ground covered, reduce weed pressure, and provide additional forage, an annual such as wheat, rye, or annual ryegrass could be planted now to reduce weed pressure and provide some grazing opportunities while you wait for an early fall renovation.

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