In many northern Australian regions and some temperate southern areas of Australia, native pastures are the predominate pasture used for livestock grazing.
Native pastures are a low-input feed source and play an important role in supporting improved, perennial pastures and maintaining the richness of biodiversity on-farm.
The key to their long-term sustainability is to recognise the specific needs palatable perennial grasses and employ grazing strategies that encourage and maintain their productivity.
To manage native pastures, producers need to:
- understand how the grasses, trees, soils, grazing animals and climate affect each other
- follow some practical guidelines which are based on experience and research
- monitor changes (even if gradual) in the pastures
- adjust management accordingly
Native pastures generally respond to dry conditions by ’shutting down’. Some native pasture species are adapted to difficult soils and environments, so have a role in harsher land classes, and are tolerant of drought and fire.
Indicators of healthy native pasture
Well-managed and productive native pasture is characterised by:
- a high content (>50%) of desirable native species
- ground cover maintained higher than 70% and dry matter levels maintained at >2t DM/ha
- 18-20 handfuls of mulch (litter)/m2 with little standing dry matter
- legume content <20%
- a management plan that outlines grazing and spelling periods to maintain and enhance desirable species and diversity
- fencing to manage grazing
Keys to success with native pastures
- Learn to identify native pasture species.
- Understand the ecology, growth pattern and life cycle of the key native pasture species.
- Aim to graze and fertilise to maintain desirable native species. For less desirable species, such as wiregrass and spear grasses, consider using grazing and fire management strategies to reduce their presence in the pasture.
- Subdivide paddocks into areas of relatively uniform topography, aspect and pasture type and condition to allow greater control of the impacts of grazing on pasture composition.
- Use flexible, tactical grazing systems and fire to control weeds and annual grasses during early spring and encourage desirable perennial native species to set seed during late spring/early summer.
- In southern Australia, spell (rest) native pastures during autumn and increase ground cover to reduce clover and weed establishment and increase the competitiveness of the native grasses.
- In northern Australia, spell (rest) native pastures over the wet season to maintain or improve land condition, and increase dry matter production.
- Maintain at least 70% ground cover to protect the soil against excessive water loss by run-off, evaporation from the soil surface, erosion and reduce establishment of annual and broadleaf weed species.
- If your property is dominated by native pasture, consider different enterprise mixes for different paddocks where livestock requirements match the seasonal differences in pasture quality and quantity.
Native pastures can be used in conjunction with improved pastures for a number of purposes:
- Shelter for lambing - provided by the tussocky nature of some native grasses.
- Grazing while other pastures are rested seasonally or for specific purposes.
- Some native grasses, such as redgrass, provide summer feed when many improved pastures are dormant.
- Less-intensive grazing of native pastures or their use as alternative grazing areas, may help with internal parasite control.
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