ASK Jeff: The Rodale Institute’s farm manager, Jeff Moyer, answers your hardcore farming questions

What is the best way to seed a new pasture?

Posted March 15, 2007

What Jeff brings to the table

Jeff Moyer, who’s been the farm manager here at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm for more than a quarter of a century, receives lots of mail from farmers just like you asking for advice. Jeff’s hands-in-the-dirt experience over the past 26 years has run the gamut from refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems (including managing 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market) to overseeing The Rodale Institue Farming Systems Trial®, the world’s longest running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. We thought it would be fun and informative to share some of these farmer-to-farmer exchanges, and Jeff’s practical wisdom, with our readers … and we’ll be doing it on a regular basis.

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Dear Jeff,

Where can I find information on how to seed a new pasture on 5 acres of tillable land? It has already been plowed. I am buying a house and would like to fence and seed this acreage for my two horses. I have no idea where to start. Is a pasture mix best? Do I add alfalfa? What is the most rapid-growing crop? How long before horses could be turned out on the field? Any advice you could give would be so appreciated.

Thank you
Lisa Craig


Dear Lisa,

Thanks for the great question and for reading New Farm. It sounds like you have things started by plowing the pasture area in preparation for seeding. The next step will be to harrow or disk as a secondary tillage activity to smooth out and level the area. This can be done with any number of harrow types. Whoever plowed the land would most likely be able to harrow it as well. Once this is done, seeding can take place.

Not knowing anything about you soil or terrain, I'm going to suggest you talk to you county extension agent or university pasture expert to get a better idea on the mix of grasses and legumes to plant. You should also take a soil sample and send it to the lab for analysis to determine if any soil amendments need to be added prior to harrowing. If any are needed, you can find organic versions of most materials that will be better for the soil, the crops and your animals. Your extension agent can help you get your soil sample to the university lab, or you can use any number of private labs such as A&L or Agri-Analysis, etc.

Now for the tricky part of your question: “How long before the horses can go onto the pasture?” First I'll say that the longer you keep them off, the better the pasture will be for the future. The second suggestion I'll give you is to temporarily break up the pasture into smaller sub-pastures…at least in the beginning. Horses have a nasty habit of ripping pasture plants out rather than biting them off. They also like to run and will trample young plants into the ground.

By fencing off smaller sections you'll have better control, and if you must sacrifice one of the plots to spare the others you can do that. Then, once the other sections have had time to establish themselves, you can replant the sacrifice lot. Normally it will take several months before the grasses are well-enough established to take any horse traffic.

Good luck with the new farm.