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Improved perennial pastures

Improved perennial pastures can increase livestock production by up to 150% compared with annual pastures and are up to 300% more productive than native pastures. Some perennial species, eg lotus and sulla may also reduce methane emissions from livestock.

Perennial species can achieve better water utilisation than annual species, reducing waterlogging, dryland salinity, soil acidification and nutrient loss through run-off.

Compared to annual species, perennials maintain a greater level of ground cover year-round, reducing the potential for soil erosion weed establishment.

Perennial pastures extend the growing season, which can reduce the need for supplementary feeding and can increase the production options in a livestock enterprise.

The high cost of establishing a new perennial pasture can take several years or more to recover. It is a profitable activity in the long-term due to potential increases in stocking rates and productivity, resilience in a changing climate and improved natural resource management.

Perennial pasture, species composition and productivity can be managed with fertiliser and tactical grazing management.

Establishing a new perrenial pasture

Successful pasture establishment (and ongoing persistence and productivity) relies on the EverGraze principles of putting the right plant in the right place for the right purpose with the right management.

Maximise the potential for success by:

  • regularly testing soils to identify and manage any soil limitations to pasture and livestock production
  • controlling weeds prior then use reliable sowing techniques, such as direct drilling to achieve high plant densities at establishment - critical for the economics of pasture improvement
  • selecting pasture species and cultivars suited to the rainfall, soil type, acidity, salinity, growing season length and any other environmental factors
  • sourcing accurate and independent information and advice on appropriate pasture species and interpreting soil test results
  • measuring the number of plants/m2 for each perennial species sown to see which pasture species persist or when/why they died out
  • making decisions to graze or destock the pasture based on the needs of the sown species and ground cover targets, to minimise weeds and ensure long-term pasture persistence
  • monitoring livestock performance (DSE/ha or kilograms of product/ha together with gross margins) from sown pastures compared with district benchmarks or other paddocks on the farm to calculate production benefits
  • increasing stocking rate, and if necessary, modifying the time of lambing/calving to efficiently utilise improved pastures. Consider the pros and cons of increasing stock numbers - increased returns, more capital, labour, risk, and pressure on infrastructure etc. It is particularly important to establish a plan for managing any increased risk and to regularly monitor outcomes against the plan.
  • assessing pastures and livestock condition regularly and calculating feed budgets to monitor and manage the risks of increasing stocking rates
  • applying fertiliser to meet the needs and production potential of the pasture

Indicators of healthy improved perennial pastures

Successful and productive perennial pastures are characterised by:

  • up to 40% legume content and at least 40-60% perennial grasses during the peak growing season
  • ground cover of more than 70% year-round
  • at least 1000kg of dry matter per hectare at the point of autumn break
  • at least 15-20 desirable perennial plants per m2 (50/m2 for newly-sown pasture)
  • optimal pasture utilisation through tactical grazing - characterised by evenness of grazing, species composition and seasonal dry matter content
  • optimal soil fertility - according to species composition and soil test results 

Additional information and guides to establishing and managing a wide range of perennial pastures across Australia’s temperature can be found on the EverGraze website.