Pasture recovery tips

Karl Andersson - Northern Tablelands Local Land Services Agronomist

As we head toward summer it is a much better situation we face compared to the last couple of years. With some decent rains and pastures around, this is a good time to assess the condition of your pastures.

While some pastures have recovered quite well others were not so resilient. When assessing your pastures' recovery, a benchmark target for pastures in the Northern Tablelands region is for five to six desirable plants per square metre; pastures with at least that number can be managed to increase plant population, while lower numbers could warrant re-establishment.

Where pasture density is above this threshold, retain and focus on increasing plant numbers by grazing management or by adding seed if required. Allow the pastures to set seed (going to phase three) by restricting grazing through to seed set.

When plants' seed heads have reached maturity livestock can be put back on to spread and trample the seed in. Grazing bulk vegetative or senescent material at this point will improve subsequent germination and decrease competition and shading. Take care though, not to remove too much at the end of summer that risks wind and frost damage during winter.

As a general rule of thumb don’t graze below the node (growing point) or around 4cm - this can vary depending on the plant species. Soil nutrition is also an important aspect of pasture growth and recovery. If you have not had a soil test done for a while (2-3 years) they are well worth the $100-$140.

Increasing pasture density through grazing management can be a slow process and may take a couple of years for populations to recover. Rather than relying solely on natural recruitment, seed may be added into the existing pasture, and here sown seed, using a reduced tillage method will have a much higher success than broadcast due to seed-soil contact. When adding seed, graze the pasture down and retard growth with a low herbicide rate. Note withholding and plant-back periods for any chemical used.

A full renovation if required because the pasture is too degraded will involve more cost and longer time out from grazing. The established renovation method of phase of a year or two, depending on the weed severity and species, of fodder crops can help control weeds before re-establishing a permanent pasture.

The practical options as far as stock numbers and cash flow are concerned may be looking ahead to your winter options. Before then, there is still the opportunity to sow some summer forages depending on weed burdens, e.g. a brassica forage crop such as turnips or kale, or legumes like cowpea (lighter soils) or lablab (heavier soils). The legumes provide forage into late autumn, and the brassicas later in autumn to winter. These fodder crops can be useful to graze livestock while pastures or winter forages are recovering or establishing in other paddocks, or where they are to be conserved for later feeding requirements.

Managing pasture recovery, meeting targets for animal production, and capturing rainfall is a tricky balancing act. Hopefully we see the La NiƱa persist and as much rainfall as possible can stored in the soil. Storing that moisture as it falls means not only better productivity but also flexibility for future management decisions.

For more information about pasture recovery, please contact Karl Andersson on 0437 867 523.

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