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Sustainable farming - low productive pastures

low productive pasturesIn a nutshell...

  • Pasture grows well in New Zealand, and that's the key to our low-cost farm export business.
  • But pasture does not grow free of charge.  The cost of growing it is over 80% of the total cost of production.
  • So pasture must not be wasted and good pasture utilisation is a major goal of all grassland farmers.
  • Pastures are very variable - they are made up of grasses, clovers, weeds, bare ground and dung patches.
  • Pasture as a feed varies every day of the year and even during the day.
  • So there are many reasons for low pasture production and utilisation.
  • For more information see "pastures" on the website.

How can you tell if you have a problem?

  • Poor stock performance - low milk production, low growth rates and low wool production.
  • Stock that do not thrive and are prone to disease.
  • Pastures that take a long time to get going in Spring.
  • Pastures that have no great spring flush of growth.
  • Pastures that always have rough mature stems and grass clumps present.
  • Very poor autumn flush.
  • A lot of dry litter in the pasture in Autumn.
  • Pastures that dry off quickly with lack of rain.
  • Bare patches in the sward.
  • A large proportion of the farm's pasture have to be renovated every year.
  • Pasture pulling - clumps being pulled out by stock during grazing.
  • Presence of low-productive grasses, eg,  Yorkshire fog, browntop, ratstail, fescues, summer grasses (paspalum, summer grass, crowfoot).
  • Low incidence of perennial ryegrass or cocksfoot.
  • Presence of weeds eg. ragwort, chickweed, thistles, docks, yarrow, buttercup, plantain, catsear, dandelion, spurrey, cress.

How can you tell if you're doing well?

  • Green, healthy pastures all year round.
  • A clear spring and autumn flush.
  • A 70% ryegrass and 30% clover mix in the pasture.
  • Both grasses and clovers are highly productive cultivars (varieties).
  • Healthy clover with active (pink coloured) nodules fixing nitrogen.
  • Dense swards with very little bare ground.
  • Highly palatable pastures that stock eat with relish.
  • Pastures that hang on growing when conditions become dry.
  • No weeds.
  • No pasture pulling.
  • Very little or no pasture renovation needed each year.
  • Dung that does not sit on the surface for long and is decomposed by worms.

What can you do to improve things?

  •  Find out how much Dry Matter the pasture grows each year, and its growth pattern.
  • Learn pasture assessment techniques.
  • Check pasture composition to measure proportion of grasses, clover, weeds and bare ground.
  • Learn how to identify grass, clover and weed species.
  • Make sure pastures are made up of highly productive species and cultivars.
  • Always maintain a healthy residual cover (eg. 1200-1300kg DM/ha) to protect the soil. Do this by avoiding overstocking and overgrazing.
  • Check the farm's fertiliser programme and review it each year.
  • Plan an effective pasture renovation programme that suits your soil types, pastures and local area.
  • Check why any pasture renovation is needed.  Try to cut it out as it costs money!
  • Look at soil structure and care to stop pasture pulling.
  • Check for earthworms and actively encourage or introduce more worms to the pasture.
  • Check for presence of insect pests.  Decide if it's worth doing anything about them.
  • Graze with different species if possible, eg sheep after cattle, to try to thicken up the sward and reduce bare areas that grow weeds.

Where can you go for help?

  • Regional Councils
  • County Councils
  • Federated Farmers of NZ
  • Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry
  • Department of Conservation
  • Water testing laboratories - see the Yellow Pages.
  • Upritchard, E, A. (1997).  A guide to the identification of New Zealand common weeds in colour.  NZ Plant protection Society (Inc).
  • Lambrechhtsen, N, C. (1992).  What grass is that?  NZ Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.  Information series No. 87. GP Publications.
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