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Pasture recovery plan – growing grass after the dry

Pasture recovery plan – growing grass after the dry

February 20: Livestock has been the number one priority in areas hit by the recent dry – and rightly so – but now pastures also need attention, to fuel farm recovery after rain, and provide the main source of feed for the next 12 months.

A successful pasture recovery plan has three stages: current management while conditions are dry; actions to be taken when rain comes and an autumn pasture renewal programme.

Pasture specialist Graham Kerr says the best way to start is to assess all paddocks on the farm, and divide paddocks into three categories.

“Most important are the Category 1 paddocks, the ones which farmers believe will recover. Category 2 is for those which might survive, and Category 3 is for paddocks past the point of no return,” explains the Agriseeds pastures systems manager.

Category 1 paddocks are the key to drought recovery, because after rain they are the first to start growing again, allowing farmers to feed stock and start setting up pasture covers for winter.

Graham says two golden rules apply to Category 1 paddocks – no grazing to bare ground in dry conditions, and patience with grazing after it rains.

There’s a very good reason for not baring pastures out: Ryegrass plants store the energy they need for survival and growth above the ground (not below it).

“Even if the pasture is brown, having 3-4 cm of length on it is a lot better for the plant than having 1 cm. That extra length holds the reserves that will power the plants back up and get them growing again when there is enough moisture available.”

On-off grazing is necessary to look after Category 1 paddocks. Farmers can use Category 3 paddocks as a sacrifice area(s) and to feed supplement in, or a feed pad if available.

“When it rains, do not change management for the next 3-4 weeks as things green up. Don’t graze pasture too soon, because putting animals on early can kill it. Wait until ryegrass tillers have three leaves before grazing any new growth post-rain, as this is when plants have replenished their reserves so they will regrow strongly.”

Category 2 paddocks meantime should be monitored. Farmers may not know whether they will survive.

“If you pull plants apart, green in the base of the tiller means there’s hope,” Graham says. “Wait until it rains, then they will become either Category 1 or 3.”

Category 3 paddocks need to be re-sown. These usually are pastures ear-marked for renewal, those which have come out of summer crop; have less than 50% grass cover remaining; contain a high percentage of weeds; have been damaged by insects; or been used as sacrifice paddock.

“A plan needs to be developed for these, which is typically a mix of short term crops and pasture renewal, and may include full renewal, spray-drilling and undersowing. Options include winter crops, 12 month pasture (e.g. Tabu), 2-3 year pasture (e.g. Shogun), and sowing early in the dry.”

Whether farmers opt for undersowing, a winter crop, new pasture or a mix of all three, if they’re relying on a contractor they must start talking to them now.

“Get in touch with them as soon as possible. The area of seed drilled will be well up in many regions, so you need to keep them in the loop and let them know what your plans are well in advance.”

Finally, if farmers haven’t ordered seed, they should do so immediately, to make sure they get the cultivars they want, and the seed is ready when needed.


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