In a nutshell...
- Pasture grows well in New Zealand, and that's the key to our low-cost farm export business.
- But pasture does not grow free of charge. The cost of growing it is over 80% of the total cost of production.
- So pasture must not be wasted and good pasture utilisation is a major goal of all grassland farmers.
- Pastures are very variable - they are made up of grasses, clovers, weeds, bare ground and dung patches.
- Pasture as a feed varies every day of the year and even during the day.
- So there are many reasons for low pasture production and utilisation.
- For more information see "pastures" on the website.
How can you tell if you have a problem?
- Poor stock performance - low milk production, low growth rates and low wool production.
- Stock that does not thrive and is prone to disease.
- Pastures that take a long time to get going in Spring.
- Pastures that have no great spring flush of growth.
- Pastures that always have rough mature stems and grass clumps present.
- Very poor autumn flush.
- A lot of dry litter in the pasture in Autumn.
- Pastures that dry off quickly with lack of rain.
- Bare patches in the sward.
- A large proportion of the farm's pasture has to be renovated every year.
- Pasture pulling - clumps being pulled out by stock during grazing.
- Presence of low-productive grasses, eg, Yorkshire fog, browntop, ratstail, fescues, and summer grasses (paspalum, summer grass, crowfoot).
- Low incidence of perennial ryegrass or cocksfoot.
- Presence of weeds eg. ragwort, chickweed, thistles, docks, yarrow, buttercup, plantain, catsear, dandelion, spurrey, cress.
How can you tell if you're doing well?
- Green, healthy pastures all year round.
- A clear spring and autumn flush.
- A 70% ryegrass and 30% clover mix in the pasture.
- Both grasses and clovers are highly productive cultivars (varieties).
- Healthy clover with active (pink-coloured) nodules fixing nitrogen.
- Dense swards with very little bare ground.
- Highly palatable pastures that stock eats with relish.
- Pastures that hang on grow when conditions become dry.
- No weeds.
- No pasture pulling.
- Very little or no pasture renovation is needed each year.
- Dung that does not sit on the surface for long and is decomposed by worms.
What can you do to improve things?
- Find out how much Dry Matter the pasture grows each year, and its growth pattern.
- Learn pasture assessment techniques.
- Check pasture composition to measure the proportion of grasses, clover, weeds, and bare ground.
- Learn how to identify grass, clover and weed species.
- Make sure pastures are made up of highly productive species and cultivars.
- Always maintain a healthy residual cover (eg. 1200-1300kg DM/ha) to protect the soil. Do this by avoiding overstocking and overgrazing.
- Check the farm's fertiliser programme and review it each year.
- Plan an effective pasture renovation programme that suits your soil types, pastures and the local area.
- Check why any pasture renovation is needed. Try to cut it out as it costs money!
- Look at soil structure and care to stop pasture pulling.
- Check for earthworms and actively encourage or introduce more worms to the pasture.
- Check for the presence of insect pests. Decide if it's worth doing anything about them.
- Graze with different species if possible, eg sheep after cattle, to try to thicken up the sward and reduce bare areas that grow weeds.
Written by: Dr Clive Dalton