Spring Pasture Management
While recent varying weather conditions and climates around NSW may affect the timing of sowing, the fundamentals of spring pasture management do not change.
1. Weed management
Good weed management prior to the sowing is important. Weeds that have germinated through winter (such as Vulpia spp.) must be managed. Summer germinating weeds (such as crumbweed and fat hen) can also be a problem in competing with the newly germinated pasture for space, water and nutrients. So, if the paddock has had large amounts of summer weeds in the past, take the time to control them also.
Make sure that you sow with an appropriate amount of nutrients. Consider not only phosphorus and sulfur levels, but nitrogen as well. Sowing depth is important – compared to cereals seeds such as oats and wheat, pasture seeds are small, so they do not need to be sown too deep
2. Soil moisture
With soil temperature and air temperature starting to rise, so does plant growth and water use. Soil moisture should not be a problem this spring, but paddocks which dry out in warm-hot conditions can be lethal to small newly germinated plants – especially those which are yet to establish their root systems. On the other hand, too much soil moisture and waterlogging may also be detrimental to plant survival.
Soil moisture conditions and the operation of sowing equipment is also a consideration as there are many very wet paddocks in the Central Tablelands, North West, and North Coast at the moment. In some other regions, the use of drones to sow pastures is working. Having good soil contact, minimising weeds and the right soil conditions post-sowing are all vital if using this technique.
3. Pasture selection
Consider the plant species that you are sowing. There is often a question over the inclusion of legumes in spring sowings – mainly around annual legumes such as sub-clover. This type of legume can germinate, but may not have the appropriate number of days before flowering and seeding down, hence reducing the amount of seed set of the species.
Some annuals will also have a percentage of hard seed that may reduce this problem by not germinating at sowing, but surviving in the soil until next year. Perennial legumes such as lucerne and white clover can be successfully sown in spring. Introducing annual legumes in the next autumn may also be an option. Note that some grass species may go to the reproductive phase very quickly.
4. Delay grazing
Grazing principles are the same, regardless of sowing time. Make sure that the new plants are well anchored prior to any grazing. If the soil is wet, avoid pugging from livestock. If there is enough feed in other paddocks, allowing the newly sown pasture to thicken up and seed down may be an option.
Only graze in the first spring if conditions are favourable. Most would not risk compromising the new pasture by grazing and instead allow to set seed in the first year. This lost grazing is made up in subsequent years and is easily accounted for in the lifetime of an 8–10-year-old perennial pasture.
5. Plant pests and disease
Be vigilant on inspecting the newly established pasture for pests and diseases. The first weeks after sowing are crucial. Pests like mites, slugs or grubs can wipe out seedling pastures rapidly.
6. Short term alternatives
Lastly, consider the use of short term forage alternatives such as forage brassicas or millet which can provide quick and abundant feed, with high digestibility, energy, and protein. Forage millet can generally be grazed 5 to 7 weeks after sowing, however it will not stand harsh grazing.
Fast Growing Pasture Options
Following recent rain events, lack of sunlight, waterlogging in some cases, and low soil temperatures has limited spring sowing in many areas. However, with longer days and less overcast days, we will see rapid growth from pastures on healthy soils. Fast growing pastures may be the best sowing options for producers.
Your farm business has 6 critical success factors to consider in this peak pasture production period.
- This is the last chance to minimise annual grass weeds seed set. A combination of high intensity grazing, and herbicide application can have a dramatic positive effect on weed seed production. Making silage from these weedy paddocks can also eliminate the viable seeds once ensiled.
- Check for nitrogen deficiency which presents with leaves a pale green to yellow in colour. If there is yellowing in the leaves of your desirable perennial pasture grasses, then you have an option of applying nitrogen to provide a pasture growth response before the quality declines. Utilisation of this extra pasture is the key to this strategy being profitable.
- Once firm (not boggy), prioritise grazing paddocks that are prone to waterlogging, during this rare dry weather period, will help utilise the pasture while the soils are less prone to pugging and compaction. With the predicted La Nina, eating these low paddocks down to keep quality high, will be an essential grazing management strategy.
- Prioritise grazing of annual dominant pastures to ensure livestock is utilising the high-quality pasture before it rapidly declines in pasture quality during senescence.
- Check/assess pasture biomass in the paddocks to be grazed. That paddock you planned to keep for the weaner sheep, may be one metre high with declining quality by the time the young weaners start grazing. If it is an established pasture, then overstocking a temperate perennial grass at this time of year will be rarely detrimental to pasture persistence. Remember, in general, keeping pasture at 2-3 leaf stage provides the highest quality diet.
- Ring your agronomist to book in some soil testing. Phosphorus is the most depleted nutrient in Central Tablelands soils. By testing each spring, you have time to plan and budget for next year’s fertiliser application and allocation to the paddocks that will provide a return on investment.
Adapted from content by Senior Land Services Officers Clare Edwards and Phil Cranney.
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