Get Started on Pasture Management-- Pasture Renovation and Seeding

Posted: April 8, 2013

Pasture renovation is an effective way to improve stand density or introduce new species into existing pastures. Following a few simple management techniques goes a long way to promote the establishment of new seedings.

Renovating Pastures

It is very important to select the correct forage species.  Always match the forage species to your site conditions, management level, and the stocking rate of your pastures. 

  • Forage species vary greatly in terms of their ability to tolerate poor soil fertility, low pH levels, wet and dry soil conditions, and intense grazing. 
  • There are many new forage varieties available that have been developed to match specific pasture conditions. 
  • Most pasture seed mixes contain a variety of species.  If you purchase high quality seed, it is expected that several of the species in the mix will thrive in a pasture even with variable management or environmental conditions. 
  • To ensure quality, it is important to purchase seed from a reputable dealer and purchase seed mixtures formulated for horse pastures. Many turf grasses, including fescue and perennial ryegrass, contain harmful endophytes. An endophyte is a fungus that lives within the plant and produces a chemical that fights insects and diseases. Endophytes can be beneficial to plants because they improve persistence, but specific endophytes may have a detrimental impact on animal health. Not all endophytes are harmful to animals. Therefore, it is important to purchase endophyte-free seed or seed with an endophyte which is safe for animals to consume.

When to Plant

  • When you have identified the seed you are going to purchase, select the appropriate time of year to plant.
  • In general, spring and fall are ideal seasons to plant.  In regions prone to summer drought and with limited irrigation, early fall seedings are generally more effective.
  • Proper soil preparation promotes the growth and survival of new seedlings. To ensure adequate pasture fertility and pH, submit a soil sample to the lab and fertilize and lime as recommended. Prior to seeding, control weeds in your existing pasture and mow or graze the existing pasture to reduce competition.
  • Pastures can be renovated by using a no-till drill or a broadcast seeder. Renovating pastures using a no-till drill increases the chances for good germination and establishment. A no-till drill cuts a slit in the ground, drops the seed in the slit, covers the seed, and firms the soil. When using a drill, do not plant the seed too deep; maximum planting depth for grasses is ¼ inch. To locate a no-till drill, contact your local equipment company.
  • With proper soil preparation and management, broadcasting can also be an effective seeding method. In general, just broadcasting seed onto unprepared soil does not result in enough seed-to-soil contact to allow for high germination rates and good establishment. Therefore, to promote establishment of broadcast seedings, the soil surface must be disturbed prior to planting. To loosen the soil, scratch the surface with a disc or a harrow. Then, broadcast the seed using a spin-seeder or by hand. After broadcasting, roll the pasture to ensure adequate seed-to-soil contact.  If irrigation is available, irrigate lightly after seeding to keep the soil surface moist until the grass germinates and each plant has 2 to 3 leaves per seedling. Then, irrigate according to local recommendations for pastures.
  • To ensure the new seedlings have time to establish, control animal access to the new pasture. Once the new seedlings are firmly rooted, lightly graze or mow multiple times. Grazing or mowing grasses promotes tillering and the development of the root system. Initial grazings should begin when the grass is 6 inches tall and animals should be removed when the grass has been grazed to 3 inches. For the initial grazings, allow short-term access in favorable weather and provide your animals hay to prevent overgrazing.
  • Once established, proper grazing management by controlling the intensity and timing of grazing improves forage quality and long-term productivity. Grazing height is a simple measure to control the duration of grazing - when to graze and when to remove the horses from a pasture. A good rule of thumb is to allow pasture to reach 6 to 8 inches and then graze to 3 to 4 inches. A rotational grazing system allows you to control the timing of grazing.


  • Information on forage species, establishment and management, soil fertility management and weed/insect management can be found in the Penn State Agronomy Guide


Contact Information

Donna Foulk
Horse Program Specialist