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How to Choose the Right Pasture Seed

By on November 05, 2013

Tricia walking the hills at a local ranch and talking about how to choose ideal pasture seed mixes.

The basics of pasture management are covered in our video Pasture Management, and Tricia troubleshoots some pasture management problems in another informative video.

You can’t have a pasture without pasture seed! Whether you’re starting a new pasture, or renovating an old one, run through our quick checklist to help you choose the pasture seed or seed mix that will give you the most productive pasture.

Can you irrigate the pasture?

If not, you need dryland pasture seed. Without extra irrigation you’ll need to plant only cool-season grasses or legumes that will grow when Mother Nature is turning on the spigot in the fall. Popular dryland mixes are Grass Valley Range Mix (Nitrocoated seed) for overseeding and erosion control, and the all-legume Low Rainfall Dryland Pasture Mix (Nitrocoated seed).

If you live in an area with steady rainfall year-round, or you have irrigation in place, you can choose from our irrigated pasture seed, using both cool and warm-season grasses. Customer favorites are Organic General Livestock Pasture Mix (Nitrocoated seed), and the diverse Herbal Pasture Mix (Nitrocoated seed).

Animals on the pasture

Who’s eating all this green stuff anyway? Will you be running cattle, horses, sheep, goats—or all of them?

Check with your veterinarian about the best grazing for your livestock. A general guideline if you’re pasturing cattle, horses and sheep is to watch the amount of legumes in a seed mix —since these animals may bloat and die if they eat too many legumes.

We have custom seed mixes for various livestock:

Cattle
Forage Blend Dryland Pasture Mix (Raw seed)
Bloat Resistant Mix (Nitrocoated seed)
Dairy Pasture Mix (Nitrocoated seed)

Horses
Forage Blend Dryland Pasture Mix (Raw seed)
Premium Horse Pasture Mix (Nitrocoated seed)
Bloat Resistant Mix (Nitrocoated seed)

Sheep
Bloat Resistant Mix (Nitrocoated seed)
Dairy Pasture Mix (Nitrocoated seed)

Goats
Dairy Pasture Mix (Nitrocoated seed)

Chickens have their own forage blend

If you’re pasturing chickens then boost the Omega-3 levels in their eggs by growing them our flax-rich Omega-3 Chicken Forage Blend. Plant this warm-season blend in a separate, irrigated pasture area, then turn them loose on it and let them eat it down to a 3” height. Rotate the chickens to another spot and let the Chicken Forage Blend grow up again.

Nitrocoated seed vs. raw seed with inoculant

Legumes are an important ingredient in a pasture mix; they feed the grasses by taking nitrogen from the air and fixing it in the soil. This “nitrogen fixing” is maximized if the legume seeds have rhizobacteria added at the time they’re planted.

Get those necessary rhizobacteria with pasture seeds that are “nitrocoated”—the coating applied to the surface of each seed adds rhizobacteria and keeps the seed properly moist, leading to better germination. The coating on our nitrocoated seeds is an OMRI-approved, organic coating, even though the seeds that are being coated may be conventional seeds.

Raw seed is usually more expensive than nitrocoated seed because you are getting so much more seed per pound.

If you plant raw seed, mix it with the appropriate inoculant just before planting. Tricia shows you how to prepare and mix inoculant in our video.

When do you want pasture forage?

warm and cool forage grasses

In irrigated pastures, cool-season grasses are the earliest to grow in spring, followed by legumes. When summer comes the cool-season grasses flag, but the legumes keep going, and warm-season grasses (both annuals and perennials) take off. In fall the cool-season grasses revive.

In dryland pastures most of the legumes are annuals and tend to go to seed in summer.

Special pasture seed mixes tailored to climate and elevation

Sierra Nevada foothills (under 3,000 feet elevation, poor soil, high rainfall)—we live here and know this soil, so we developed Sierra Foothill Dryland Mix (Nitrocoated seed).

Mountains (over 3,000 feet elevation, cold winters)—for our neighbors up the hill, Intermountain Pasture Mix (Nitrocoated seed).

We even have mixes for problem areas or difficult soil conditions, such as our Alkali Pasture Mix.

You can make your own mixes with the many individual grasses and legumes we offer.

Know your weeds

What’s a weed? In a home garden it’s any plant in the wrong place. In a pasture things are more flexible and the weeds are actual bullies that want to take over. They typically are stemmy and lack the nutrition offered by broad-leaf legumes.

Keep an eye out for these thugs of the pasture as you walk your property. Take a good look at our photos of these ag criminals so you know them when you see them.

One way to control weeds is to whack or mow when the weeds are taller than your desirable pasture seeds. For instance, when the “good” plants are 6” tall and the weeds are 12” tall, whack down to the 7” level and you’ll hurt the weeds, not your pasture seeds. This technique will weaken the weeds and if you repeat this several seasons you’ll reduce the number of weeds.

johnson grass
Johnson grass (Sorghum halepense) can be rooted out by pigs.

smutgrass
Smut grass (Sporobolus indicus), short or tall, got its name from a black fungus that sometimes appears in the center of this bunch grass.

Keep all these things in mind when you choose pasture seed, for verdant pastures and happy livestock!

Photo credits: Johnson grass, John Tann; Smut grass, Forest & Kim Starr

  Comments (11)

K

What is a good blend for Barbados Black Bellied sheep for grazing in the 97496 area?  There is no irrigation and only wild grasses.  We have a small flock of 10 or so and we supplement with baled grasses. There’s about 3 acres available to them.
Thanks!

Posted by KIM CHABRAYA on Dec. 28, 2014 at 8:05:17 PM

You are in USDA zone 8b and in a “dryland” situation. But really you need to determine how much rainfall you receive to know if you need a dryland mix. You also may want to do some research on sheep nutrition because some animals cannot eat certain types of forage, like clovers. Otherwise I hesitate to make any firm recommendations. So consider rainfall, irrigated vs. non-irrigated and whether or not there are any seeds to stay away from for sheep. Hope this gets you started.

Posted by Suzanne at Peaceful Valley on Jan. 09, 2015 at 12:20:31 PM

R

Do you have any “Animals on the pasture” seed that is best for pigs/hogs?

Any “custom seed mixes” for raising hogs on pasture?

Posted by RadFox Ranch, Inc. on Apr. 18, 2015 at 8:42:22 AM

We do not have any mixes specific for hogs/pigs. We are not experts on raising animals, so check out this article from the University of Missouri Extension on “Forages for Swine”, http://extension.missouri.edu/p/G2360.

Posted by Suzanne at Peaceful Valley on Apr. 23, 2015 at 1:57:19 PM

B

Hello I am in 85298 and will be grazing goats and chickens.  What do you recommend?

Posted by Brittney on Sep. 02, 2015 at 1:13:00 PM

Brittney, for the chickens you can put in our omega 3 forage blend, a great mix for chickens but am not sure about the goats. You probably should ask your vet and let them know about the seeds in the above mix and make sure they are find for goats and chickens. You will need to keep them out long enough for the seed to establish as well.

Posted by Suzanne at Peaceful Valley on Sep. 03, 2015 at 11:41:16 AM

D

I see that you currently do not have a pasture mix for swine. By chance, are you working on one or have plans to do so in the future? Currently, I can’t find a specific swine mix anywhere in the country and my only option is a custom mix which is not cost effective.

Posted by Danielle on Sep. 03, 2015 at 5:35:50 PM

L

We are looking for a low-growing pasture non-irrigated pasture mix for poultry. We are NOT aiming for a special Omega-3 diet, but rather a drought resistant, protein-rich, insect-attracting, well-rooted, self-sustaining pasture base. What would you recommend?

Posted by Leslie on Feb. 02, 2016 at 5:56:56 PM

Leslie, I checked with our gardening consultant and first you should always check with your vet on the particular diet of your farm animals. That being said a couple of mixes were suggested that would work, the Dryland Wildlife Food and Habitat mix (scm450) or the Sierra Foothill Dryland Mix (spd600). Look at the contents of the mix and check with your vet to make sure the mix is good for your chickens.

Posted by Suzanne at Peaceful Valley on Feb. 03, 2016 at 10:14:06 AM

M

I’m in growing zone 9a, in the mountains and, on average, the pasture area is at about a 45 degree slope. It’s also wooded with a few sunny spots and non-irrigated. This area averages about 40 inches of rain a year between October and the first half of May. We’ve got goats and chickens to rotate through. Any advice on what seeds to plant? Thanks so very much!

Posted by Mary on Sep. 17, 2016 at 8:59:47 AM

S

Mary, we have a mix for goats, the Peaceful Valley Irrigated Dairy Pasture Mix. Are you going to be able to irrigate the seed? It is best to check with a vet to see if this mix is appropriate for your goats. When are you planning to plant? That will also help you decide on what seed mix to plant. We have a mix for chickens, called the Omega-3 Forage Blend. If you are not going to irrigate, you should take a look at our dryland mixes to see if they will work for your situation.

Posted by Suzanne on Sep. 19, 2016 at 10:20:22 AM

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