This past year, the pigs have created several paddocks that are well fertilized, tilled, and ready to be planted to pasture. Additionally, the cutover land needs to be seeded with a pasture grass as well. As we consider which types of pasture plants to seed, I’ve narrowed the available options down to three. Our three chosen options are no seed, bahiagrass, and a mix of Indian Grass and Beggarweed.
The first option is the cheapest…seed with nothing. The areas of the farm that we have mowed to control the brush over the last several years have created a sod of grass (mostly crabgrass) which is palatable to our animals. I’ve noticed that this sod doesn’t green up as early as other grasses in the area of our farm, and isn’t as vigorous, but is certainly simple to establish. The animals seem to relish this option as well. At least they relish it while green.
The second option is bahiagrass. We have chosen Bahiagrass over Bermuda due to the ease/low cost of establishment and the tolerance for silvo systems (shade) and poorly drained ground. Another benefit to Bahiagrass is the low cost of maintenance compared to the Bermuda grasses. We will use the Pensacola variety of Bahia over the most recently improved varieties due to P’cola being the easiest/cheapest of even the bahia’s to maintain. The main drawback I can see to Bahia is that it forms such a thick and persistent sod that it can be difficult to establish legumes or other grasses in a bahia field. It is also more difficult to drill a winter oat or legume into due to the thickness. The other drawback is that the crude protein is a % or two less than Bermuda. On the other hand, the last and potentially most important benefit to Bahia is that the neighbor of ours that raises a commercial cow/calf herd loves to talk the benefits of Bahia over the Bermuda for the cows…
Our other choice is a combination of a few natives…Indiangrass and Beggarweed. Indian grass is very stemmy, tall growing, excellent for wildlife habitat, low yielding, late maturing, and tolerant of drought and poor growing conditions. Indiangrass, however, is relatively easy to establish and is more vigorous and competitive than the bluestems. Indiangrass is tolerant of other species in the field, which will allow us to incorporate a legume into the field. We will plant beggarweed in our indiangrass field to raise the crude protein levels of the stand, to utilize nitrogen from the air, and to provide a diversity for our animals. The concern I have with beggarweed is that it is so relished by ruminents that I have seen reports of it’s near demise due to deer grazing pressure. Beggarweed has a crude protein level of 22% in a vegetative state…this protein level lead to the following quote in a 1907 USDA Farmer Bulletin: “when it is so abundant as to afford good grazing, it will fatten horses, mules, and cattle more quickly than any other plant”.
Next, we’ll need to post on which paddocks will get which pasture seeding, and how much seed we’ll need. Two other pasture establishment options to consider are annual forage peas or velvet beans and Sericea Lespedeza.