Top tips for perennial pasture persistence
31 July 2015
NSW DPI technical specialist Phil Graham and producer Henry Bridgewater explain how to manage improved pastures for persistence.
Phil Graham has been heavily involved in grazing research in the Yass region of NSW for more than 20 years.
“Grazing a new pasture is an important ingredient in its future success. New pastures need to be grazed for them to tiller and get bigger,” Phil said.
The following are key indicators Phil looks for when deciding if a pasture is ready to be grazed:
- Plant is anchored: When you grab hold of the plant and give it a pull it stays in the ground.
- Pasture is six inches (15cm) high: For tillering to occur, we need sunlight at the base of the plant. At six inches high tillering is compromised by shading – grazing will allow the sunlight through.
- Adequate soil moisture: Never put animals in to graze unless you know you have adequate moisture in your soil, so the plant will be able to grow back once you take the animals out.
Once these three indicators are in place, Phil recommends stocking heavily for three to four days.
“We want the stock to act like a lawnmower – chop off the top three inches of the plant and let the sunlight in,” he said.
“You need the paddock grazed evenly, so that means a lot of stock for a short period.”
Cooma dual-purpose Merino sheep and Poll Hereford cattle producer Henry Bridgewater grazes sheep on a perennial pasture mix of lucerne, phalaris, clover and winter-active fescues for a maximum of 10 days.
“When I have a mixed pasture I monitor the lucerne,” Henry said.
“I’ll take sheep out of the paddock even when there is a lot of feed still in there, to look after the lucerne.”
For the past 12 years Henry has been steadily replacing lucerne-only paddocks with the pasture mix, and has almost completely converted the property’s 700ha of lucerne flats.
He says sowing mixed pastures has provided more biomass for grazing, reduced weeds and wind erosion, and added flexibility to the enterprise.
“We never put cattle on the lucerne flats because it was too dangerous, but now they’re mixed pasture we do,” Henry said.
“Last summer we finished steers on those paddocks, something I had never done before.”
With well above-average rainfall in the district, the 2014-15 summer was “pretty extraordinary” according to Henry, and the pastures meant he had increased flexibility to respond to the unusual season.
The pastures have also minimised the amount of chemical intervention required.
“In 2013 I went back into some of the first paddocks I had sowed and sprayed barley grass,” Henry said.
“I sprayed in June-July after a hard grazing, and used a low rate of about one litre per hectare of Sprayseed, which worked well. It burned off the phalaris, but that came back again.
“That was the first time I had sprayed those paddocks in 10 years – if it was still a lucerne flat I would have to spray barley grass every year.
“The only other maintenance I do is apply 250kg/ha of gypsum every second year. I use it as a soil conditioner to keep the sticky lucerne flats friable.”
Read the first part of this series where Henry Bridgewater and Phil Graham share their experience of selecting and establishing perennial pastures
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