Spring pasture into action
20 September 2019
With continuing tough seasonal conditions forecast for the southern livestock production zone, producers are urged to focus on spring pasture management.
While there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach, here are some tips and tools which can help manage a few of the seasonal challenges facing grazing businesses this spring while also ensuring longer-term pasture resilience.
MLA's Project Manager – Feedbase, Mick Taylor, said now is a good time to assess feedbase supply and animal demand honestly and put in place key dates for interventions depending on climate outcomes.
"Developing a calendar for decision making helps keep control of the process; for example if it hasn't rained by this date, the oldest breeders go or supplementary feeding kicks in," Mick said.
Some useful tools to take stock of the situation are:
- Bureau of Meteorology Climate Outlooks
- Lifetime wool – pasture quality and quantity
- MLA's More Beef from Pastures (modules on setting directions, pasture growth and pasture utilisation)
- EverGraze Feedbase Planning Tool
- EverGraze Estimating Feed on Offer
For pastures to benefit from any spring rainfall, they need to have been well-managed over winter.
"If pasture is grazed below 1,000kg green dry matter/ha (roughly 3cm), it has reduced opportunity to achieve spring growth," Mick said.
"If you’re starting out behind the eight ball, there’s potential to end up in a corner."
If forecast pasture growth doesn’t meet demand, options could include:
- containment or supplementary feeding
- grazing failed crops
- opportunistic cropping (sowing summer grazing crops or sowing into existing pastures following rainfall events)
- earlier turn-off of stock
- agistment, including grazing stubbles post-harvest.
If you need to supplementary feed, make sure you’re doing it cost effectively.
- The Department of Primary Industries NSW has developed a practical tool to guide feeding decisions: Feed Cost Calculator.
The season can’t be controlled, but other aspects of pasture performance, such as soil health, weeds and over-grazing, can be.
Maintaining the persistence of perennial pastures has been identified as a major challenge in southern livestock systems by MLA research.
Tools to help pastures persist include:
- MLA's Making More From Sheep: Grow More Pasture module
- MLA webinar with industry expert Phil Graham on prioritising pasture expenditure
MLA’s Profitable Grazing Systems (PGS) training is available to producers to develop their management to address issues in soil, pasture weeds, plant nitrogen and grazing practice. PGS provides the opportunity to learn as part of a small group with the assistance of a coach who will guide participants in further improving their businesses.
- For more information: mla.com.au/pgs
Dig a little deeper
It pays to dig a little deeper and see what else is happening in your paddocks.
MLA-supported paddock assessments across NSW and WA found more than 80% of legume-based pastures had inadequate nodulation in their root systems.
Poor nodulation may limit nitrogen fixation, impacting on dry matter production, soil nitrogen levels and livestock productivity.
Long-term pasture performance can also be addressed by diagnosing poor-performing species. For example, some older cultivars of subterranean clover (the most common annual pasture legume in southern Australia) can contain oestrogenic compounds that cause infertility in grazing animals.
Cultivars such as Yarloop, Dwalganup, Geraldton and Dinninup can cause two forms of infertility in ewes – one can often be resolved by removing ewes from the oestrogenic pastures, while the other leads to permanent infertility and increases in severity with continued exposure (clover disease).
The chronic form of clover disease is associated with dystocia (difficult births), uterine prolapse and post‑natal mortality of ewes and lambs.
A project by the University of Western Australia (UWA), co‑funded by MLA Donor Company, is determining the extent of high‑oestrogen ‘bad’ clovers across southern Australia. A fact sheet is being developed by UWA and will be posted on the MLA website.