Soil testing and seeding for pasture

hand holding grass seed for pasture

So after the clearing was finally finished and the ground settled a bit ( a few months of rain and drying cycles), it was time to start seeding for pasture.  The first step actually involves no seed at all, but impacts your growth results more than anything, and that is testing your soil. It’s recommended to test your pasture soil regularly even if you don’t need to do much seeding but is essential if you’re starting with bare ground. A soil test is done by a lab and evaluates soil ph and other nutrient levels and tells you how to adjust the soil to best suit the needs of its use. If the soil ph is out of whack or the nutrient levels not balanced, the grasses you plant may not grow or not grow very well and that won’t change until you fix any issues with the soil. It’s a relatively small and inexpensive step that will potentially save you money and labor down the road.

To do it you basically send some soil samples from where you plan to seed to the lab though the mail and they send you a report with their evaluation. I actually did two soil evals because I seeded in different areas that had different soil composition but luckily both results were pretty good, nothing needed to be altered to be balanced soil for a grass mix.

Here’s a link to Ohio State University’s site with soil testing information, how to, and a list of other labs all over the country that offer testing.

Seeding pasture

Deciding which seed to sow depends on several factors. Mainly: climate in which you live, use of the grass (grazing, what animals will be grazing, hay production, etc). In our climate area (zone 6) you need cold hardy grasses if you want them to be perennial. Some of those would be tall fescue, alfalfa, orhardgrass, timothy, clover, and some ryegrass varieties. I chose to broadcast a mix of all those varieties.

When considering horse pasture seeding consider traffic and use of the space as well. Horse hooves disturb the soil more than other livestock, especially when the ground is wet, so the high traffic zones need a tougher grass to withstand the traffic. Fescue is a bit hardier grass variety that tends to work well for high traffic zones, it establishes more of a turf with its root system and has a tougher thicker blade. 

One more thing when choosing bagged seed varieties. Carefully consider and inspect the seed types listed in bags of pre mixed equine variety seed. A lot of them are mostly annual seed or cheaper seed types mixed with just a sprinkle of better quality seed.

For example: this is a listing of the seed types in a bag of seed sold as”equine forage blend” sold for $54.99 for a 25 lb bag.

Italian Ryegrass – 25%
Tetraploid Annual Ryegrass – 25%
Timothy – 20%
Orchardgrass – 10%
Tall Fescue – 10%
Bluegrass – 5%
White Clover – 5%

Looks ok at a glance but, both types of ryegrass in this are annual, so you’ll only get one year of growth. The ryegrass combined makes up 50% of the seed and the price comes out to $2.20 per lb. If you bought a 50 lb bag of perennial ryegrass (from the same retailer) for $80.00 at $1.60 per lb you’d get more seed and should get grass that comes up year after year. 

If you are looking for a blended seed mix with 5 or 6 different types of grass, try a local feed store that custom mixes seeds. They’ll be able to help you customize to your needs and you’ll get a blend thats works best for your pasture.

Cultivating good quality pasture grass requires an initial investment for success, but will pay you in dividends over the life of your pastures use. The cheapest and nutritionally best source of feed for your horse (or other livestock) will always be under your feet.

Here’s a few links to some more in depth info!

This link has info about choosing seed types and you can purchase seed here too

This link is to a detailed guide to seeding small pastures

This link is to a great month by month guide of what to do for your equine pasture and feeding all year

Leave a Reply