down on the farm

The best way to fight kikuyu: sur­ren­der

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - WORDS & IM­AGES RUTH RENNER

Iused to dis­like au­tumn. It sig­nals the end of sum­mer and the in­evitable pro­gres­sion into win­ter. But time passes more quickly as one ages and win­ters now seem a less fear­some prospect.

It also has a lot to do with our bet­ter pre­pared­ness, which has a lot to do with what hap­pens in au­tumn.

Sea­sonal tim­ings nat­u­rally dif­fer through­out this land but here in the Far North – our farm is 20 min­utes south­west of Kaitaia – April is usu­ally still quite warm and pleas­ant. Apart from the clock time chang­ing with the end of Day­light Sav­ing on the first Sun­day and its cooler night-time tem­per­a­tures, April of­ten feels very much like an ex­ten­sion of sum­mer. I believe that is not the case fur­ther south.

As long as we've not had an ex­tended drought, it's a time of ram­pant pas­ture growth. There's enor­mous plea­sure in watch­ing the young an­i­mals grow­ing healthy and fast, their moth­ers lay­ing down re­serves to get them through any tough spells dur­ing the win­ter, and ev­ery­one gen­er­ally look­ing fab­u­lous.

But in this re­gion, if a farmer has not de­lib­er­ately ex­cluded kikuyu grass, this can be a trou­ble­some time. If you don't keep kikuyu un­der good con­trol now, it will have im­pli­ca­tions through­out win­ter and next spring.

Au­tumn is when kikuyu puts much of its en­ergy into its ex­pan­sive stolon growth, the sturdy, lus­cious-look­ing green ten­drils which creep out across any bare area or up to­ward the sky if the sur­round­ing grass is al­ready long. It also rapidly grows green leaf. This, if eaten and kept con­trolled at this stage, pro­vides a nu­tri­tious feed for young stock.

But it doesn't take long to har­den off and be­come less so. If you only have

young an­i­mals, they need to be kept mov­ing onto the best feed, not left to tidy up the re­main­der as the low nu­tri­tive value of old kikuyu is not suf­fi­cient for young an­i­mals' growth.

Fur­ther south (and fur­ther south again as the cli­mate warms and kikuyu's range ex­pands), timely man­age­ment is even more im­por­tant and prob­lem­atic. In the north, in a mild win­ter's early months, kikuyu will con­tinue to grow a lit­tle be­fore it even­tu­ally goes into dor­mancy. In colder cli­mates it will be­come dor­mant much ear­lier and will not pro­vide any win­ter feed. Other grasses must be al­lowed to grow vig­or­ously in the same pas­tures, which means the kikuyu must be man­aged well so win­ter feed species can flour­ish. If not con­trolled, kikuyu yu will grow to a me­tre etre or more in height and nd shade out any op­por­tu­nity for other pas­ture plants to come away.

Our farm and stock num­bers are just big enough to man­age the sit­u­a­tion rea­son­ably well, although dropping cow num­bers to bet­ter feed ev­ery­one through thet win­ter has re­duced the graz­ing pres­sure we're able to ap­ply at peak growth times. A m mower has also be­come a val­ued ad­di­tion to pa pas­ture man­age­ment. M Ma­ture cows can go into over­grow over­grown kikuyu pas­tures for short stints a at high stock­ing rates, to clean up what younger an­i­mals leave be­hind and it won't do them much harm. How­ever, only feed­ing them this rub­bish isn't sen­si­ble be­cause they still need ad­e­quate nu­tri­tion to main­tain them­selves and their de­vel­op­ing calves.

Ap­ply­ing graz­ing pres­sure means putting a good num­ber of an­i­mals in a small enough area that they can take the pas­ture level right down in a mat­ter of hours, rather than days (see next page for a demon­stra­tion). Of­ten I will break a small pad­dock into even smaller ar­eas with elec­tric tape and move it a cou­ple or three times in a day, just to achieve that aim. De­pend­ing on cow con­di­tion (if they're in good con­di­tion they can tol­er­ate a bit of hard do­ing; if not, I won't make them work so hard) we may mow af­ter they've done their job.

What to do when your kikuyu is out of con­trol

Don't de­spair. The re­peated ap­pli­ca­tion of many mouths will even­tu­ally re­store an area to ac­cept­able pas­ture.

On a first pass, cat­tle will only take the easy green feed. But with a bit of pres­sure, they in­evitably eat some of the un­der­storey. Af­ter the grass has had some re­cov­ery time (in a warm, damp pe­riod, that may be only a week or so) they can graze again, tak­ing the new green leaf and a bit more of the un­der­storey. Even­tu­ally the ined­i­ble parts are tram­pled in and the grow­ing grass is short and nu­tri­tious again.

Kikuyu pas­ture can­not be saved for later use in win­ter be­cause it is com­pletely sen­si­tive to frost. A lus­cious-look­ing pad­dock of emer­ald-green kikuyu will bleach out and shrivel away to noth­ing within a cou­ple of days af­ter a frost. That's why in au­tumn, we don't shut up pad­docks to grow feed for the win­ter but fu­ri­ously graze them down low.

Ruth's tip: don't make hay – over­sow

Some peo­ple make hay from kikuyu but un­less very well man­aged, the re­sult is of­ten a poor of­fer­ing for win­ter feed. A more sen­si­ble thing to do is to over-sow a rye grass va­ri­ety which is ac­tive dur­ing win­ter and spring.

You don't need a lot of equip­ment to have a pos­i­tive ef­fect on your pas­tures. I've sown as much as 10ha (25 acres) in one sea­son by hand. If you're rel­a­tively able-bod­ied, it's a great pre-win­ter fitness pro­gramme, walk­ing up and down, up and down, fling­ing seed onto pas­tures.

The tim­ing of over-sow­ing is very much weather de­pen­dent. It needs to be done be­fore overnight tem­per­a­tures go too low but if there has been no rain, there's lit­tle point in sow­ing un­til there is mois­ture for ger­mi­na­tion. Some­times that makes sow­ing here just a wee bit late for re­ally ex­cel­lent early growth, slow­ing things down and mean­ing pad­docks can't be grazed again for a bit longer than I'd like.

Usu­ally an over-sown pad­dock can be lightly grazed af­ter about six weeks. But if ger­mi­na­tion is de­layed by dry or cold con­di­tions, that may need to be ex­tended by an­other week or two.

On the other hand, sow­ing when the tem­per­a­tures have dropped a lit­tle means the re­cov­ery of the kikuyu is slowed a bit, so it doesn't grow so fast as to in­hibit the growth of the new grass by too quickly shad­ing it out.

Sow­ing too much of your graz­ing area at once is un­wise if there's in­suf­fi­cient graz­ing else­where for your an­i­mals when your sown pad­docks are shut up while the new grass is get­ting es­tab­lished. I got a bit too en­thu­si­as­tic in my 10ha year and hadn't thought that through very well! I've taken to al­ter­nat­ing the pad­docks I sow each year when us­ing any of the Ital­ian rye species, which are sup­posed to last only a cou­ple of years.

The lush Ital­ian rye seed is not cheap but the value of the grass grown as fresh feed for the an­i­mals when they need it com­pares very well with mak­ing or buy­ing in hay. The bonuses: I don't have to store it in my non-ex­is­tent barn,

Ma­ture kikuyu will pro­vide good feed for stock, although very young an­i­mals should not be fed ex­clu­sively on such grass.

Af­ter graz­ing, a pad­dock vac­uum cleaner would be use­ful but this will all be­come part of the soil, even­tu­ally.

Masses of feed for all dur­ing kikuyu's ac­tive sea­son.

A strip mown by a scrub-bar shows how much the kikuyu will shade everything un­derneath it.

Out on the hills, cows are still the best tool we have to keep kikuyu un­der con­trol.

Well- Well-main­tained main­tained kikuyu will have clover and other pas­ture species amongst it, pro­vid­ing an ex­cel­lent feed source for young an­i­mals.

Above left: this is how to get out-of-con­trol kikuyu un­der con­trol again. The first graze (left) takes the top green leaf un­til there's no green leaf re­main­ing (right). Af­ter 7-10 days, the cows will come back again, and this pat­tern will be re­peated three or four times. The grass will come back to a nu­tri­tiously-pro­duc­tive length again, and clover will be re­ceiv­ing enough light to grow back amongst it.

Ruth's seed­sow­ing apron.

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