Good quality pasture is generally the best feed for stock, and surplus autumn pasture can be rationed for feeding into winter. Rationing pasture involves grazing small paddocks or strip grazing behind electric fences. This has to be planned well in advance, and it takes experience to know how much pasture to feed to the various types of livestock, and how and when to supplement it with other feeds such as hay, concentrates, and grain.

Conventional advice is often given in terms that are hard to understand at first, e.g. kg dry matter per hectare. And then again there is sometimes a need for strategic fertiliser applications or re-seeding when pasture quality is low.

All in all, it’s a complex business, so to learn how to manage pasture cost-effectively, it is important at the outset to get training or advice from a professional advisor or an experienced and competent farmer.

Different types of livestock have different requirements

In winter, young growing animals and old animals may require extra feed such as concentrates as well as pasture and hay to provide the energy and protein they need. So too might animals which are lactating or pregnant. Animals that are in poor body condition also benefit from supplementary concentrate feed, and horses in work need extra rations to maintain their body weight.

Any animal that has faulty incisors (front teeth) won’t be able to bite effectively and will be disadvantaged on short pasture. Species like horses and sheep can generally graze close to the ground, but goats and cattle require longer pasture. On short pasture, they don’t compete well with horses and sheep. These types of livestock may need supplementary hay and concentrates to see them through the winter.

Cattle have a particular requirement for long pasture. Watch them graze. They use their tongue to gather a swathe of grass into their mouth and they tug it off using their lower incisors against the upper pad of gum. For cattle to graze effectively, pasture must be at least several cm long.

Time to stand and stare

As a general rule, it’s a good sign to see ruminants like sheep, cattle, and goats standing or lying down chewing their cud, and it’s a good sign when non-ruminant herbivores like horses and ponies can spend time dozing and idling without having to graze. It means that they are not having to spend most of their time trying to graze because they are hungry.