Country Calendar PASTURE
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.