The snow and cold temperatures we’ve been having in February make it seem like spring is far away. But spring weather really isn’t that far away and it’s not too early to be thinking about pasture improvement.

Have you met your long-term goals for pasture quality? Most of us probably have not, because we’re continually seeking that very high target of top quality. Pasture productivity is linked closely with pasture quality. Usually, a mixture of vigorous, perennial plants will provide the most optimum forage production for livestock.

If you want to enhance your pasture quality and forage quantity, spring is a good time to do it. It’s easier to do where adequate moisture is available. Irrigated pastures and those in higher rainfall areas can be improved faster than pastures in arid or semi-arid range areas.

Once a goal has been set, it is time to determine which actions, those that are practical and affordable, will help you achieve it.

We can add desirable plants by seeding. This is the most direct way to increase the population of the more desirable, better producing forage species. With the high quality, good performing no-till drills that are available now, it is not necessary to till the soil before seeding. Being able to seed right into the existing plant community is less costly and doesn’t take the pasture completely out of production as when tillage is involved. Some conservation districts have no-till drills that are available for members to use.

When planting into existing sod, it is best to have the standing forage as short as possible to allow the seed to be distributed as evenly as possible. This will help to get the seed in contact with the soil. It’s best to limit seeding depth to a half-inch. Sprouts from seeds planted deeper than that may never reach the soil surface.

Seeding is best done when there is good moisture available to support germination. Moisture is one of the prime factors in choosing the time to plant. The soil needs to have enough moisture for germination and to support the new plant’s growth to insure survival.

Selection of the types of grass and legumes to match the soil type, slope, elevation and moisture norms is important. Your local Extension office and Natural Resources Conservation Service office can be of help in recommending specific grass and legume species.

If possible, it is wise to select a combination of grasses and legumes to provide the diversity that will enhance both forage production and livestock nutrition. The grasses produce more during the cooler spring and fall, while legumes produce more during the warmer summer temperatures. Periodically there will be new grass and legume cultivars available, but it is best to check with an experienced Extension educator or NRCS technician before trying new ones.

Improved pastures can increase forage production, enhance forage quality and result in higher profit from your livestock grazing operation. A well made plan will include tapping into the good resources available from your Extension educators, NRCS range specialists and the local conservation district office.

Doug Warnock, retired from Washington State University Extension, lives on a ranch in the Touchet River Valley where he writes about and teaches grazing management. He can be contacted at

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