PASTURE, PASTURAGE. The word pasture signifies in its widest sense land for the grazing of domestic animals; in its limited sense, the inclosed lot or meadow found on nearly every farm in which the stock feeds on the growing herbage. The word pasturage also has two different meanings, being used in the one sense for the growing grass and other green plants eaten by stock, and in the other as a synonym for pasture. Pasture is here used in its limited sense, and pasturage as meaning the growing grass and herbage on which stock feeds. The area of the ranges, those great natural pastures of the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains regions, is decreasing as the land is being brought under cultivation by settlers. The pampas of South America, and to some extent the steppes of Asia, are vast natural feeding-grounds corresponding to our ranges. Sometimes the different kinds of farm animals are confined in one inclosure, but most farmers have a separate pasture for swine. Horses and cattle are generally pastured together, although they sometimes annoy and injure each other. Sheep graze much closer than horses and cattle, and so place the latter at a disadvantage when pastured with them, while, on the other hand, they are useful in keeping down certain weeds which horses and cattle do not eat. A dairy herd is always most profitably pastured by itself. In the United States, and in all countries where new lands are brought into cultivation, the native prairie is often used for pastures, while in older countries or long-settled regions the cultivated soil is laid down to grass for this purpose. Native grasses are hardy and adapted to the prevailing conditions of soil and climate, so that when they are used the element of uncertainty is entirely eliminated. Pasturing more stock than can be well fed in a pasture of this kind has the effect of killing out the grasses and encouraging the growth of weeds, especially during times of drought. Occasional light applications of well-rotted barnyard manure, followed by a thorough harrowing, are very beneficial when the sod has become unproductive and hard. The care of native pastures further requires that the weeds be always kept down and that hardy tame or wild grasses be sown on places where the sod is becoming bare.
The practice of laying down land to pasture is common in all farming regions, and often forms a part of the crop rotation. Pastures on cultivated land intended for only a few years are called temporary pastures, and those for a long series of years permanent pastures. In starting pastures on cultivated land the first and most important requisite is a good condition of the soil. The kinds of soil best adapted for pastures are loams and clays, while loose, sandy, and gravelly soils are entirely unsuitable in this connection. Before the land is seeded down the soil is brought to the best possible condition of cultivation and fertility, and if the natural drainage is inadequate artificial drains are laid. A high state of fertility is conducive to a luxuriant growth of grass and a rapid formation of a good sod. A heavy dressing of barnyard manure is well adapted to grass lands, because it not only furnishes all the necessary elements of plant food, but also has a beneficial effect on the mechanical condition of the soil. It is preferable to lay land down to pasture after a hoed crop like corn, which leaves the soil in a good condition of tilth and comparatively free from weeds. The methods of preparing the soil and sowing the grass seed are the same in pasture-making as in laying down land to grass for a meadow (q.v.).
The choice of grasses depends largely upon the conditions of climate and soil. On ordinary soils in regions where the rainfall is generally sufficient, Kentucky blue grass (Poa pratensis), Canada blue grass (Poa compressa), tall fescue (Festuca elatior), red top (Agrostis vulgaris), perennial rye grass (Lolium perenne), orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata), and red and white clover form a good mixture for pastures. Red top, alsike clover, creeping bent grass (Agrostis stolonifera), and perennial rye grass are grown in wet pastures, and red fescue (Festuca rubra), red top, Kentucky blue grass, and white clover in pastures on light sandy soils. In the Southern States, Bermuda grass (Cynodon Dactylon), carpet grass (Paspalum platicaule), large water grass (Paspalum dilatatum), and Texas blue grass (Poa arachnifera) are valuable pasture grasses. Timothy (Phleum pratense), an excellent hay grass, is often sown for pasture, but it is rather subject to injury by the trampling of stock and close grazing, and it does not form a good turf. Unlike the course pursued for meadows, in selecting pasture grasses those species are sought which furnish a succession of green forage throughout the season. For temporary pastures annual and biennial crops and short-lived grasses are suitable, but for permanent pastures perennial and good turf-making species are required.
Many farmers grow forage crops near their pastures to feed to the stock during times of drought, to prevent injury being done by too close cropping. The droppings of the stock are not sufficient to keep up the fertility of the soil, and hence, as mentioned above, top dressings of barnyard manure and commercial fertilizers are applied to supply the deficiency. The droppings of cattle ought to be broken up and scattered over the ground. Harrowing a pasture in the spring admits heat and light into the soil and favors the growth of grasses and leguminous plants. Weeds should never be allowed to grow in pastures, and the coarsest and rankest grass should be mowed once or twice each year. Re-seeding old pastures is usually not so profitable as breaking and working up the sod and growing a few crops before the land is again seeded down. An abundance of pure water in pastures is a prime necessity. A few trees on the highest points where the stock can find cool shade are of great benefit. A paddock is a small pasture generally located near the barns. Compare Meadow.