By Brandy Brabham|
WVU-Roane County Extension Agent
This winter, many areas in West Virginia have had an extremely wet fall and winter including our area of the state. This has resulted in excessive hoof damage or pugging to pasture and meadow sods. The concern shared by West Virginia University Extension Agronomy Specialist Dr. Ed Rayburn is that when things dry out (hopefully) this spring, the exposed plant roots will dry out, killing much of the sod. Another concern is that if we have extreme cold, with wind and no snow cover the root could also freeze, dry, and die. So far this winter the second concern really has not been an issue, but winter is not over yet. Of course, the real possible issue that will emerges from this excessive hoof damage and pugging is weed establishment in the open soil.
One suggestion is to use an old management practices that was used annually to help restore winter stressed grassland. That management is spring rolling of pasture and meadow sods. A cultipack roller is a common tool for this job. Another option is to use a culti-mulcher, otherwise known as a pulvi-mulcher. The trick to using a culti-mulcher is to ensure that the harrow teeth are in the raised position so they do not tear up the sod. A Brillion seeder can also be used to do the job and can be used to add seed at the same time.
To reseed winter feeding areas, livestock producers may consider rolling the land with a cultipacker with a chain harrow attached behind it. Then producers could broad cast a seeding mix over the area. To ensure that the seed is covered, go back with just the chain harrow to cover seed lightly with soil and any surface organic material such as manure, hay residue, etc.
Sometimes these tools may be few and far between. But if you know farmers who have them, they may be willing to loan or rent them out to other farmers to roll their pastures and meadows. Another option is to check with your local conservation district, as conservation districts across the state have different types of equipment to rent. While our local district does not have these tools to rent, if you think these tools might be wise investments for the Little Kanawha Conservation District, you could contact them at 304-422-9088 to discuss the need.
Dr. Rayburn's recommendation is to roll any pasture or meadow that is badly pugged as soon as possible, once it is dry. This can also be done when the soil is lightly frozen. Frozen enough on the surface so that the soil is not muddy, which would cause it to stick to the cultipacker; but not frozen so hard as not to be pressed down and smoothed out by the cultipacker. This condition happens when the night time temperature is in the low 20's and the afternoon temperature in the high 30's.
Rolling should be done when the livestock are not in the field and will not be back there until spring. Fields where livestock are wintering can be rolled once the animals are moved to other pasture in the spring.
To help thicken the sod, apply a frost seeding of adapted grasses and clovers. If you miss the frost seeding window use a no-till seeding or a broad cast seeding followed by chain harrowing. Producers are reminded that the Little Kanawha Conservation District has a no-till drill seeder to be used on mostly level ground for re-seeding pastures, hayfields or feeding areas that could be rented by calling their office at 304-422-1022 or the USDA Service Center in Spencer at 304-927-1022. The Conservation District Supervisors for Roane County are Rick Parsons and Dawn Canterbury.
The local WVU-Roane County Extension Service has received several fact sheets that provide reseeding recommendations. To improve quick establishment and cover consider adding 5-10 lbs/acre of annual ryegrass to act as a nurse crop to these seeding mixtures. Two annual ryegrass varieties that are adapted to West Virginia are Marshal and Passerel. If you have any questions about re-seeding or smoothing out your winter feed areas, call the local WVU Extension Service in Roane County at 304-927-0975 or email firstname.lastname@example.org