Maintaining productive pastures is a vital part of livestock farming and the positive impact of reseeding on grass quality and quantity is clear. Regular reseeding in spring or autumn helps keep swards performing at their best, allowing grass to be used as a highly cost-effective and nutritious ruminant feed.
If you missed out on a spring reseed due to the dry conditions or find reseeding in autumn works best for your system, now is the time to start planning.
Reseeding in autumn comes at a time when there is generally less pressure on grass availability so puts less of a squeeze on forage supplies when the field is taken out of production.
The higher soil temperatures of autumn can drive early grass establishment, but weeds can benefit from this too. Monitor fields closely to check what weeds are emerging and plan how to control them.
Joe Doyle runs a spring block-calving herd of 400 Holstein Friesians in Pembrokeshire. As a grass-based herd, reseeding plays a vital role in maintaining the production of milk from forage. Joe explains why he opts for autumn reseeds:
“Taking a field out to reseed in autumn makes sense from a labour point of view but also fits our grazing needs as we tend to have a better wedge of grass in autumn. When deciding which fields to reseed we look at their performance throughout the year. This includes the number of grazing rotations, how well they were grazed and how the cows behaved in those fields. Those not performing well enough are picked out for reseeding.
When selecting seed mixtures, we normally look for high sugar varieties which are palatable but also durable and suited to the farm conditions.
As a tenant farm, it’s vital we make the most of the land we have to achieve good returns. Regular reseeding helps keep our grassland performing to its full potential.”
The benefits of reseeding grassland in autumn
An autumn reseed gives the new sward chance to establish and build up to its full production potential over winter before grazing in spring. There is also less risk of it being affected by dry conditions although wetter weather may affect the opportunity for important post-emergence weed control.
Another advantage of autumn reseeds is the subsequent rest period over winter gives the soil chance to settle before grazing and travel begins again in spring.
Conversely, reseeding in the autumn comes with a narrower window of opportunity with soil and weather conditions declining as the season progresses. This is particularly important if you are using a mixture containing clover.
If you are in southern England or Wales, aim to sow red clover no later than August and white clover by mid-September. For those in northern England and Scotland, both red and white clover should be sown by mid-August. Clover struggles to establish successfully before winter if sown later than these dates.
There are various ways to carry out an autumn reseed largely depending on your farm’s conditions and soil. Whichever you choose, preparing the ground is critical; a fine, firm seedbed is the foundation of a successful reseed. Before reseeding, always carry out a soil test, giving yourself the chance to identify and rectify any deficiencies.
Chris Elkington farms 550 mixed breed ewes at Gelston Lamb, near Grantham in Lincolnshire. With conditions tending to be dry, Chris chooses to reseed in autumn:
“For us, moisture is the key benefit of an autumn reseed. Coming into a period where conditions are still warm but also wet can really help to maximise the chances of a successful reseed. As our sheep spend winter elsewhere, it is also a period of rest for the farm so makes sense from a grazing and labour perspective.
“On the lighter land we tend to plough, but for the heavier land we normally disc drill and then power harrow. Whichever method we use we’re always aiming to produce as fine a seedbed as possible. Although this can be challenging, it’s important not to rush the process.
“We’ve been really impressed with a herbal ley we trialled last year; chicory and plantain seem to cope very well with the dry conditions. We’re definitely planning to reseed more in the future. It just goes to show you should never be afraid of trying something new!”
Chris Elkington and family
When you reseed depends, ultimately, on your farm system, conditions and forage requirements. Whether done in spring or autumn, reseeding represents a significant financial investment, and you’ll gain the highest return when it’s planned and managed well.
This guide can provide more information on reseeding grassland.