Establishing pastures for goats
Establishing a successful forage crop depends partly on weather conditions shortly before and after planting. Delaying planting until the last possible dates found in the literature, such as in forage guides, may reduce the chance of growing a good stand by 30 percent to 50 percent.
Perennial cool-season forages can be best established by planting in the late summer or fall, with a few exceptions. Some points to remember about fall planting:
- Cool season grass seedlings are more tolerant of freezing temperatures than legumes.
- In prepared seedbeds, grasses should have three to four leaves before freezing weather occurs. In a sod, one to three leaves will suffice.
- In prepared seedbeds, ladino clover should have five to seven true leaves present when frequent freezing weather occurs. In a sod, one to two true leaves will usually suffice.
Sod-seeding – fall and winter
Fall plantings can be made later in sod than in prepared seedbeds because the existing sod provides protection for the developing seedlings during the winter season. Delayed planting results in much less insect damage. When planting ladino clover in an established sod of tall fescue or other cool-season grass or chicory, late winter or early spring (February to March) plantings are often a good alternative to fall plantings. Planting legumes in the winter hampers seedling diseases that often attack fall plantings. When planting tall fescue or orchardgrass in existing sod, it is best to plant in the fall.
Germination generally declines with the age of the seeds, but if seeds are stored in a dry cool place, germination should not decrease more than 10 percent the first year. In general, seeds that have low germination levels also produce seedlings with poor vigor. Legume seeds are often hardseeded and should be scarified to improve first-year germination.
Legume seed inoculation with rhizobia
Legumes should be inoculated with specific rhizobia — or one that gets along with that particular species — prior to seeding. Rhizobia will establish nodules in the legume plant roots and fix nitrogen for the plant in exchange for nutrients. Inoculant should be kept cool and away from the sun.Without proper inoculation, legume seedlings will be weak and mature plants will be low in crude protein concentration.
Seeding rates vary because of seed size, purity, percent germination and seedling vigor. Under adverse conditions, only 10 percent to 50 percent of the seeds planted will establish and develop successfully. Therefore, many seeds are needed to obtain a satisfactory stand.
Drill versus broadcast plantings
Planting rates for drilling are 20 percent to 50 percent lower than for broadcasting. Because drilling concentrates the seeds within a furrow, they occupy a smaller area of the ground and are better able to break through the soil crust. Seed placement, soil contact and uniformity of stands are usually better with drilling than with broadcasting, especially when planting conditions are not optimum.
Seeds can be planted slightly deeper in sandy soils than in clay soils. Large-seeded grasses can usually be planted deeper than small-seeded legumes in similar soils. The smaller the seed, the shallower the seeding depth. On cultivated seedbeds, it is important to prepare a firm seedbed to conserve moisture and avoid variation in planting depth. Rolling to compact seedbeds after seeding will improve seed/soil contact and increase seedling survival. If the residue from the previous crop makes a mat on the ground, drag an implement such as a harrow or disk to cut and/or break the residue before sod- seeding. Then, make a furrow about three-fourths of an inch deep, and most seeds will be covered with one-half to one-fourth inch soil.
What is a good stand?
In general, a good stands provides 90 percent to 100 percent ground cover and will produce high yields when managed properly. The clover part of mixtures should make up to 30 percent of the stand on a weight basis for it to significantly contribute to the mixtures and forgo nitrogen fertilization.
Luginbuhl, J-M. 2006. Pastures for Meat Goats. In: Meat Goat Production Handbook, ed. T.A. Gipson, R.C. Merkel, K. Williams, and T. Sahlu, Langston University, ISBN 1-880667-04-5.