February 2008
For What It's Worth

Here’s Hope for Your Pastures

by Robert Spencer

As most of you are well aware, much of Alabama has experienced several years of drought and a late freeze in April 2007 which severely impacted pasture conditions. Anyone who raises livestock or horses is likely to have sincere concerns about forage availability for 2008. Some made a valiant effort to plant grass seed in fall of ’07, only to have the drought continue and the grass seed to lie fallow or be eaten by birds and etc. However, there is still hope to re-establish pastures this spring with some traditional and alternative forages.

Prior to pursuing your options regarding what to plant, I need to make a serious recommendation, soil testing. Given the cost of fertilizer (particularly nitrogen), seed, labor and equipment, a little bit of effort and money for the cost of soil testing is equal in value to all the fertilizer that can be applied and still not know the need for nutrient supplementation. To conduct this test, visit your local Extension Office or Quality Co-op and ask for a soil testing kit.

Follow the instructions, submit your sample and wait for the results.

Now is the time to make this effort so you know what should be applied to properly condition your soils. This is essential prior to making any effort to re-establish your pastures with expectations to provide adequate forages for your livestock and horses this summer.

Below is a table with some suggestions on warm-season forages and legumes that should be suitable for livestock in general, particularly goats. The information was taken from two Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) publications, both prepared by Don Ball and Robert Burdett, Extension agronomists. For more options and details you can obtain a copy of ANR-149 Alabama Planting Guide For Forage Grasses and ANR-150 Alabama Planting Guide For Forage Legumes. These guides are available at your local County Extension Office or on the ACES website.

To learn about cost of the various seeds you will need to inquire with your local sources for seed.

The forages listed in the table are merely suggestions, your choices may vary.

My personal favorites would be either variety of Lespedeza and the crabgrass. The Lespedezas are high in tannins, hearty and drought resistant. Crabgrass is also hearty and drought resistant.

Opinions vary on how well this blend works. Remember, this grass should be sown in the fall!

Whatever you choose I hope this information serves you and your animals well. Remember, goats prefer variety in their diets. And, remember the importance of a soil test! Contact your local Extension Office for further assistance.

Robert Spencer is a contributing writer from Florence, Alabama.