Improving pastures with improved seed is worth the cost

alfalfa field
Farm and Dairy file photo

With spring easing its way in, thoughts are moving toward improving the pastures that may not have performed as you hoped. 

You may wonder if reseeding or overseeding might be the answer. Like most questions we receive in Extension, my first response would be “It depends.” There can be benefits with reseeding, especially if improved varieties of forages are used. 

Exhaust all other options

The first question to answer is, have you maximized your management with what you have available? In previous articles, many of us have talked about the importance of soil testing. That is a crucial first step. If the pH is not in the correct range, or there is a shortage of phosphorous or potassium, then reseeding is probably going to give disappointing results. 

Another question to consider is, is the pasture being overgrazed? This can occur easily and there are likely management options that will help alleviate the problem. Reseeding an overgrazed area will most likely not help. 

If you feel you have done all you can with what you have and want to go ahead with reseeding or overseeding, then let’s consider your seed options. 


Maintaining 30% of the sword as a legume provides an advantage, especially with the nitrogen fertilizer prices where they are. At 30% or more of the pasture, no additional nitrogen fertilizer should be needed. 

Clover is a great legume option in Ohio. There are different species and varieties to fit your needs. White clover varieties are lower-yielding but may provide longer stand life and more resistance to constant grazing. Red clover produces higher yields and often has a higher nitrogen-fixing capacity. We may be a little late to frost seed clover, but it is not too late to overseed it with a drill. 

When purchasing seed keep in mind that improved varieties nearly always outperform older public varieties. Look for ratings for disease and insect resistance, stand persistence and yield. These ratings may vary depending on your location. Ohio variety trials from 2013-2015 showed a yield of nearly two times for the top improved variety over common Mammoth red clover. It also showed a percent survival of stand at 83% versus 4% at the end of the three-year trial. Similar findings have been reported in other states. The extra costs of an improved variety can pay for itself easily with differences like these. 


Regarding grass options, there are several possibilities that could work depending on the area, conditions, and type of livestock being grazed. Like legumes, grasses also have improved varieties. These varieties have been shown to persist longer, improve yields, and have greater resistance to certain diseases and insects. 

For instance, Kentucky 31 tall fescue is a very hardy plant with some good traits but the toxic endophyte it carries can cause a variety of issues in many species of livestock. In university trials, improved varieties with a novel endophyte replacement have demonstrated they could support an additional 50 pounds of weaning weight over the old variety. With feeder calf prices around $1.50, this could increase income by $75 per calf per year. 

Improvements like that pay for the extra seed cost in a hurry. Look for certified seed that will have a listed germination rate and a lack of noxious weed seeds when selecting seed. 

Going in and reseeding pastures will only be a long-term improvement if you also make the changes in species planted and alter the management in a way that will allow the new species to thrive and survive for the long run. If changes are not made you will soon be right back where you started.


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