Coun­try Cal­en­dar PAS­TURE

NZ Lifestyle Block - - FEATURE -

IT’S TIME for a se­ri­ous farm walk to check the state of your pas­ture plants, and de­cide what needs to be done to get through win­ter. The usual shock comes when you get down and see what’s still alive. Peren­nial rye­grass and white clover are the foun­da­tion of New Zealand pas­tures but will be hard to find. If a block has had no fer­tiliser for a num­ber of years, the main grasses will be brown­top and York­shire fog, both with fluffy brown seed heads. Green leaves are where the food is for stock and there won’t be any!

So you can wait un­til the rye­grass starts to shoot, pro­duc­ing tillers from the grow­ing point near the base, but it will take some weeks be­fore there’s a de­cent bite for stock. In the mean­time, you’ll have to feed out sup­ple­ments (silage, then hay) while you wait, and in the case of clover, you may not see any kind of re­cov­ery un­til spring – if any sur­vives.

The only grass species that are guar­an­teed to sur­vive will be the semitrop­i­cal ‘sum­mer grasses’ (pas­palum, sum­mer grass and crow­foot), and it will look as if all is well, but they will dis­ap­pear at the first frost, leav­ing large ar­eas of bare ground where more weeds ger­mi­nate. Then the dead ‘thatch’ that has ac­cu­mu­lated in the base of the pas­ture will rot away in a few days af­ter rain, leav­ing more bare ground.

There’s al­ways a big push in au­tumn by com­pa­nies sell­ing pas­ture seeds to en­cour­age ‘pas­ture re­newal’ which means ei­ther over-sow­ing new seed into the pad­dock with a drill (the cheap­est op­tion), or cul­ti­vat­ing the pad­dock be­fore drilling (which is an ex­pen­sive op­tion). Spray­ing to kill what’s left be­fore over-sow­ing is a good op­tion to give the new del­i­cate plants a chance to get go­ing.

Do­ing noth­ing is also an op­tion, es­pe­cially if cash is short – just wait and see what ger­mi­nates from the masses of ‘hard seed’ that have ac­cu­mu­lated in

the ground over the years. They may be slow to ger­mi­nate and may not be very pro­duc­tive cul­ti­vars, but the re­sults could be sur­pris­ing.

But re­mem­ber, the weeds may beat you and you’ll need a plan to stop them.

Un­less soil fer­til­ity is up to scratch, any new pas­tures will soon end up like the old ones. Check when your block had a soil test and get some help to in­ter­pret what nu­tri­ents may be needed from a new one. If you do noth­ing else, put plenty of lime on for a start.

Thank­fully there’s a move away from the mono­cul­ture of rye­grass and white clover to in­clude other species (like it used to be) so you are less re­liant on ni­tro­gen fer­tiliser. Learn how to recog­nise the dif­fer­ent grasses, clovers and weeds in your pas­tures ei­ther from Google, or What Grass Is That by NC Lam­brecht­sen – try Trade Me or your li­brary for a copy.

Don’t get over-ex­cited when you see some nice lush green growth ac­cu­mu­late and hear peo­ple start talk­ing about ‘au­tumn saved pas­ture’ (ASP). Re­mem­ber that it’s very low in Dry Mat­ter, low in fi­bre, very high in pro­tein and energy, and by no means a bal­anced diet. It needs to be sup­ple­mented with good silage or hay.

Al­lo­cate this feed care­fully with the elec­tric fence and try to build some up be­fore there’s a risk of frosts, which will stop growth. Rye­grass stops grow­ing when soil tem­per­a­tures at 10cm deep are be­low 6°C. It’s also tempt­ing to stim­u­late a bit of an ex­tra flush with an ap­pli­ca­tion of 25kg N fer­tiliser if soil tem­per­a­tures are still above 10-12°C. Check with your lo­cal or re­gional coun­cil for read­ings.

As the sunny days turn to wet, have a plan to take stock off pas­tures when soils get very wet and pug­ging is a risk. Start plan­ning now to make a stand­off pad for win­ter.

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