PAS­TURE

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Feature Country Calendar: Winter -

IT’S AL­WAYS A great re­lief to see pad­docks green­ing up again, but don’t as­sume this is all good news. You need to know what has grown af­ter the drought, which means learn­ing to recog­nise peren­nial rye­grass, and the army of weeds rac­ing ahead to beat the grasses. Cal­i­for­nian this­tles are the main en­emy and need to be at­tacked in the young, leafy grow­ing stage.

Prefer­ably, you want to see peren­nial rye­grass, shiny on the up­per sur­face of the leaf, dull on the lower side, with a clear rib up the mid­dle. It has a pink sheath at the base when peeled back, and pro­duces new shoots (tillers) from the basal (base) grow­ing point.

Take a care­ful look at pas­tures to de­cide their fate. If there are ar­eas of what looks like to­tally dead grass, you’ll have to think about over­sow­ing with some new seed. To beat the weeds, you may have to spray the pad­dock first.

Cul­ti­vat­ing the pad­dock be­fore re­sow­ing is ex­pen­sive and should be a last re­sort on small farms. Of­ten, de­spite what is re­sown, poor man­age­ment along with low fer­til­ity means peo­ple end up with the same prob­lem.

Con­sider dif­fer­ent pas­ture species such as tall fes­cue and red clover, which are more drought-tol­er­ant than peren­nial rye­grass and white clover, plants like chicory and plan­tain which are cur­rently be­ing pro­moted as ‘drought-re­sis­tant’ but the prob­lem is that they can­not be grazed like grasses and may only last 2-3 years, de­spite what their pro­mot­ers say.

The out­stand­ing fea­ture of pad­docks af­ter a dry sea­son is the amount of bare ground, where weed seeds love to ger­mi­nate af­ter the first mois­ture and light. Some of th­ese ar­eas are as big as din­ner plates af­ter the dead ma­te­rial cov­er­ing them rots away af­ter a cou­ple of days of warm win­ter rain.

Hope­fully there will be clover seed wait­ing to ger­mi­nate, so check if you can see any young grow­ing plants. The last thing th­ese young plants need is to be dam­aged by heavy stock­ing and pug­ging when heav­ier rains come in win­ter.

It’s an in­ter­est­ing ex­er­cise to put some sur­face soil in a jar of wa­ter, shake it up, then let it set­tle and see what seeds float to the top. Rye­grass and round black clover seeds are eas­i­est to see and th­ese are ‘hard seed’ which will ger­mi­nate even­tu­ally, but the weeds usu­ally beat them. There will also be seeds of old cul­ti­vars which may be a good thing with all the con­cern about the poor per­sis­tence of mod­ern va­ri­eties bred for high, short­term pro­duc­tion.

THE COST OF WIN­TER FEED

Plan­ning how much of your sup­ple­ments to feed out be­comes an im­por­tant part of win­ter pas­ture man­age­ment and feed bud­get­ing. Think of the cost of sup­ple­men­tary feed per kg of Dry Mat­ter (DM), es­pe­cially if you have to buy it in, and you’ll ap­pre­ci­ate more the need to avoid waste when feed­ing out. Only feed what stock can clean up in about an hour to avoid them us­ing it as a dry bed in a wet pad­dock. There’s an old and crude rule that what stock can clean up in an hour will pro­vide main­te­nance, but it’s more im­por­tant to keep a close eye on their body con­di­tion, which must be ap­pro­pri­ate for stock ap­proach­ing birth in a few months. Learn how to con­di­tion score as it’s not an ex­act science.

Win­ter pas­tures pro­duce around 15kg Dm/ha/day. A sin­gle large cow will need at least 14kg DM to main­tain her ba­sic body func­tions, and more than that to start to gain con­di­tion com­ing up to calv­ing. A ewe needs about 1kg Dm/day for main­te­nance.

This is the ba­sis of a feed bud­get, to make sure the feed on the farm will meet the needs of the stock. It has to last un­til the crit­i­cal date in spring when the pas­ture growth ex­ceeds the stock’s feed de­mand, a date which will vary from year to year. Talk to a farmer who does regular feed bud­gets in your area.

Your main goal is to build up a ‘feed bank’ for spring, but this will not be pos­si­ble if the farm is over­stocked and you don’t have enough sup­ple­men­tary feed. Win­ter is the time you’ll find this out, so it’s im­por­tant to take some ac­tion if you need to get rid of stock that the farm can­not carry. Run­ning skinny half-starved stock is against the An­i­mal Wel­fare Act.

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