Frost-Seeding and Controlled Grazing
Pasture Improvement for Goats
Reading Time: 3 minutes
by Dorothy Rieke Improving pastures for your goats need not wait for summer days. Have you seen anyone spreading seed across a field on a winter day? That person is probably frost-seeding, a method that allows improvements during the last days of winter when temperatures drop below freezing at night and rise above freezing during the day.
This process of soil improvement actually begins in the fall when animals graze the land, leaving the grass and forage low, or close mowing takes place. The cracked, exposed soil accepts the seeds. Then in the process of freezing and thawing, those seeds become covered with soil and later germinate.
If thick vegetation is left on the soil, the seeds will not do as well because there is too much competition. Some seeds may not even reach the soil.
Not all plants take to frost-seeding. Legumes, such as alfalfa, red or white clover, and birdsfoot trefoil do best with heavier seeds that settle better into the cracks and crevices of the soil. Some sources have stated that red clover does best when frost-seeding. Grass seeds do not frost-seed well because they are lightweight and have small, stiff bristles at the ends.
There are many advantages for sowing legumes by frost-seeding into a field. First, legumes help “feed” the pasture grasses with their roots equipped with nodules that take nitrogen from the air and move it into the soil. The nitrogen not only serves the legumes, but feeds nearby plants. Pasture for goats should consist of no more than 30% clover and alfalfa, and the rest grass and other forages, since overeating fresh legumes can lead to rumen issues like diarrhea and bloat.
A pasture that is older often has thin areas with less grass or legumes. Some plants die out after several years because of overgrazing, disease, insects, or just the age of the plant. Frost-seeding improves both the forage quality and yield.
Another important practice for pasture improvement involves permaculture: improving pasture with certain long-term, sustainable practices. Pasture rotation is one of those practices. This is dividing a pasture into smaller sections, then moving the goats to each section of pasture before the fully graze the previous one. The main idea here is to allow goats to graze for a limited time, leaving at least six inches of growth. Then, the goats move to another pasture. At this time, the remaining forage plants grow back. Even brush needs recovery time if it is forage for goats. Without a rest period, goats will kill the brush with continuous browsing.
Rotational grazing extends the grazing season. It enables producers to provide a higher-quality forage at a lower cost. It also reduces the internal parasite problem if the goats are moved to another area before the forage plants are grazed too short.
Strip grazing can also be a form of controlled grazing by moving the electric fences ahead of and behind the goats, offering good forage for two or three days at a time. Goats do not graze soiled forage well. Strip grazing results in a high average daily gain, increased gain per acre, and rapid improvement of body condition when they are grazing on hig- quality pasture. This is very effective with stockpiled fescue during late fall and early winter. Strip grazing is not recommended with a low-quality pasture because goats are selective in what they eat.
Controlled grazing has many benefits. Goats become tame because of their contact with humans when fences are moved. Some plants, sensitive to continuous grazing, will live longer and produce better. Controlled grazing results in less trampling of the forage. Urine and dung are distributed uniformly over a large area. Of course, with more interaction with the goats, it will be easier for animal observation.
As with any system, controlled grazing has disadvantages. This system is costly. There is also the possibility of overstocking areas. Moving the goats takes planning. Mature forage offers less nutrition. Also, a pasture might become dominated with low-quality forage.
Don’t overlook multi-species grazing. Adding goats to pastures where cattle graze results in more meat produced on that land because the goats and cattle tend to select different plants to eat. Goats also keep weeds and brush from invading the pasture.
Pastures for goats take important considerations. First, the forage must be managed to meet animal nutritional needs, a healthy environment must be maintained, and internal parasite levels must be managed. Well-managed pastures protect soil losses from erosion, enriches soil with organic matter, and allows more effective use of rainfall. Pasture management for goats brings a host of benefits for you, your goats, and the environment.
Originally published in the September/October 2022 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.