The Good Life

54 7 great ways to use up grass

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - Words Sh­eryn Cloth­ier

When one cow rep­re­sents a quar­ter of your stock units, man­ag­ing sea­sonal pas­ture fluc­tu­a­tions can be chal­leng­ing.

Low stock num­bers over win­ter are the way to get through the feed short­age caused by cold weather.

But what’s the best thing to do at this time of year when the grass is jump­ing out of the ground, and then goes to waste?

It is bet­ter to have too much grass than too lit­tle. The ideal stock­ing rate for your block will mean you have enough in times of short­age (wet win­ters, dry sum­mers). Any ex­cess in spring and au­tumn is a bonus to boost growth.

There is no such thing as too much grass. It is al­ways a valu­able re­source, the em­bod­i­ment of the nutri­ents of your soil. The se­cret is to have al­ter­na­tives to graz­ing: use it as fer­tiliser, for seed, and fresh or stored stock food.

1 Buy in stock

There is no such thing as too much grass.

The ob­vi­ous so­lu­tion in times of ex­cess grass is to get more stock.

Na­ture takes care of this with birthing in spring, but new­borns aren’t go­ing to eat much.

It pays to do your maths if you’re plan­ning to buy stock now. Prices can be high if spring weather is good and grass is long be­cause ev­ery­one else want to buy ex­tra stock too.

2 Let the neigh­bours in

This is the eas­i­est op­tion. Talk to your neigh­bour, open the gate and let their an­i­mals graze the ex­cess grass. I have never heard of a neigh­bour turn­ing down this op­por­tu­nity.

It is an easy so­lu­tion, but you and your land are los­ing on the deal. You are giv­ing away free grass, ex­port­ing nutri­ents from your land, and risk im­port­ing worms and dis­ease.

If it is an on­go­ing ar­range­ment, you could ne­go­ti­ate with a grazer to run a lamb or two with their flock un­til killing time; or you have an agreed fer­tiliser pro­gramme that they ap­ply back to your land.

3 Make hay

This is what ‘real’ farm­ers do: bale and store the ex­cess grass now, to feed out dur­ing the short­age of sum­mer and win­ter.

Mak­ing hay in one small pad­dock can be chal­leng­ing, but it can be done: • find a lo­cal con­trac­tor who will do the job – if your neigh­bours want to make hay, it is more at­trac­tive for a con­trac­tor to do two pad­docks nearby at the same time; • book it with them as soon as pos­si­ble; • make sure your gates are wide enough for a trac­tor to pass through; • pick up any rub­bish and rocks in the pad­dock ; • keep an eye on the weather.

Mak­ing hay in­volves cut­ting your grass at max­i­mum length, just be­fore it sets seed; seed pro­duc­tion re­duces grass en­ergy con­tent. This is usu­ally some­time be­tween late Novem­ber and Jan­uary.

You then need about three days for your hay to dry, ideally in full sun with a light breeze.

Pre­dict­ing that is the tricky part. It’s also why ev­ery­one else wants their hay done at the same time and why you need to book in with your con­trac­tor well in ad­vance.

While the cut grass is dry­ing, your con­trac­tor will be in spread­ing and turn­ing it. When it’s dry, they will rake it into far­rows, ready to bale.

Once baled, get it into a dry, airy, stor­age shed be­fore the dew falls on it. Keep it sep­a­rate from ma­chin­ery as hay tends to mess up stor­age ar­eas.

Mak­ing hay with­out spe­cial­ist ma­chin­ery is pos­si­ble. You can do it your­self if you have sev­eral fit peo­ple and four days at your dis­posal.

4 Make silage

An­i­mals pre­fer to eat silage over hay. It has twice the feed value, and is more palat­able than fresh grass. The cost is higher than mak­ing hay, around $13 per small bale for silage, com­pared to $5.50 a bale for hay.

En­sure it is stacked where you want it. Even ‘small’ silage bales can be 45kg+.

Silage has the ben­e­fit of not need­ing a shed for stor­age, but any hole in the plas­tic wrap will cause spoilage. Use silage tape to patch holes.

Make sure stock can’t get near stored bales as they will rip open the plas­tic. Set traps for rats which can bur­row un­der­neath and dam­age bales.

The dis­ad­van­tage of silage is that once a bale is opened, it starts to spoil and needs to be fed out quickly. You can re­move a 20cm slice off a bale’s ‘ face’ each day to en­sure stock aren’t eat­ing feed that has spoiled.

You can make silage your­self if you have fit peo­ple and time to spare. It doesn’t need as much dry­ing time as hay but is still a con­sid­er­able ef­fort. I use a lawn­mower and stomp it into drums.*

Fal­low­ing works well on a herb, rye­grass and clover pas­ture

5 Sum­mer fal­low

This is what I do. It is per­fect if you don’t need to store feed and you have cows. It is a do-noth­ing op­tion that has a pos­i­tive ef­fect on soil, grass and live­stock.

Fal­low­ing is a tech­nique of land man­age­ment from bib­li­cal times, used well be­fore any­one thought about im­port­ing fer­tilis­ers from for­eign coun­tries.

Most grasses have a set life-span. Leav­ing them ‘ fal­low’ to set seed pe­ri­od­i­cally will re­gen­er­ate a pas­ture. Leav­ing a blan­ket of long grass shel­ters and feeds the bi­o­log­i­cal life in the soil. Rem­nants of what is called ‘stand­ing hay’ that are not eaten by stock will be tram­pled down to rot into the soil. It’s like mak­ing com­post on-site to fer­tilise your pad­docks.

I find fal­low­ing crowds out weeds, greatly im­proves worm counts and bi­o­log­i­cal soil life, and en­hances pas­ture.

Tra­di­tion­ally, farm­ers would leave 1/7th of their farm fal­low each year. Due to my fenc­ing, er­ratic stock­ing rates, and the sea­sonal growth, I do about 1/5th of my prop­erty each year.

When I start to get ex­ces­sive grass, I take a pad­dock out of ro­ta­tion, shut it up, leave it to grow, and set seed. I let the grass shed the seed in au­tumn and then graze the re­mains in win­ter with cat­tle. There is not a lot of feed value left in the grass by then, as most of the en­ergy has gone into seed pro­duc­tion, but my ma­ture cat­tle ap­pre­ci­ate the roughage.

This works won­der­fully on my Waikato block with its good herb, rye­grass and clover pas­ture. It won’t work with kikuyu pas­ture which is bet­ter eaten down low on each ro­ta­tion so it doesn’t form a thick thatch of roots and stalks.

Ar­eas with a high fire risk over sum­mer should con­sider win­ter fal­low­ing. Lock up the area in early au­tumn, let it go to seed, then graze it off late win­ter, in time for it to re­grow in spring.

6 Mow it

‘Real’ farm­ers read­ing this may have a fit, but mow­ing your pad­dock is not just to make it look like a lawn.

Reg­u­lar mow­ing will feed and nur­ture a healthy soil bi­ol­ogy and a high worm pop­u­la­tion. Clip­pings will quickly turn into nu­tri­tious fer­tiliser. It also stops weeds from seed­ing and keeps grass ed­i­ble un­til your stock need it. Many real farm­ers do it too.

Top your grass at the max­i­mum height of your mow­ing deck (my hus­band in­stalled a ‘lift’ kit on my ride-on mower). Cut­ting the grass: • stops it go­ing to seed and los­ing feed value; •

clip­pings feed the worms which turn it into com­post and fer­tilise the soil; •

pas­ture will grow and thicken.

An­other ben­e­fit of mow­ing is it’s a great way to con­trol this­tles and weeds. Mow just as the flower buds of an­nual weeds start to form and you pre­vent them from set­ting seed.

Cal­i­for­nian this­tle, a peren­nial with a ter­ri­ble spread­ing habit, can be pre­vented from seed­ing and weak­ened if it’s mowed reg­u­larly. Stud­ies also show mow­ing it in the rain helps to spread deadly this­tle dis­eases.

But there is a dan­ger of one-off mow­ing in sum­mer as it can cre­ate a layer of clip­pings that lie on the top of the soil. In rye­grass in the North Is­land and the top half of the South Is­land, this pro­vides a habi­tat for the fun­gus that causes fa­cial eczema. The tox­ins mul­tiply in hot, hu­mid con­di­tions, caus­ing prob­lems for live­stock be­tween Jan­uary and April.

We mow our pad­docks di­rectly after the stock have grazed it. Once cut, un­palat­able weeds and grasses help main­tain an ac­tive soil bi­ol­ogy.

‘Real’ farm­ers read­ing this may have a fit.

Wild buttercup.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.