You will often hear me talk about rocket fuel pastures. They are the driving force behind real animal performance. And right now is a great chance to assess the potential of your current pasture base.
So firstly what is rocket fuel??? It is a pasture that is high in energy (>11ME/kg), sufficient protein (ideally around the 16-20% mark) and optimum fibre (NDF 32-35%). The sorts of plants that fit that description are Lucerne, plantain, chicory, and the most forgotten, neglected and overlooked…. Clover! Remembering also that we need to still be able to carry a good stocking rate throughout the year as that remains our main driver of profitability.
This year we have a fair bit of clover at our disposal. Your job is to make the most of it with good grazing control, and strategic use of rotations. Check out our recent article addressing this.
But looking forward to next year, what pasture will you sow? If you ask your local seed sales rep, or sales agronomist, there is likely to be a brand new variety that will grow more dry matter than ever before, and actually, “maybe you should try this mix which has 47 different varieties in it”. And sometimes they are right. My job though is to make you stop and think before you jump in boots and all.
When do you need your feed? While a new variety that grows an extra 2 tonne of dry matter might be great, if all that extra is in spring then is that actually useful? I can tell you that 95% of farms I visit are struggling for autumn/winter growth. We don’t need more spring growth!
Similarly the shotgun approach of 47 different brand new varieties might help make sure something will persist, but the reality is that if you have bugger all of each seed, you will have bugger all plants as well.
But wait, what about the livestock??? How often does anyone stop to think about what they want? With a group of producers this week we looked at a paddock that had both phalaris and fescue in it. The sheep wouldn’t touch the fescue. I made each producer grab a leaf of each. As soon as they held them in their hands there was a light-bulb moment. The fescue felt like sandpaper, was hard and fibrous. My simple question…. “would you eat it?”
So here are my simple suggestions –
Pick a species or variety that will suit the soil type. If in doubt grow phalaris and clover
It costs around $400/ha to sow and establish a new pasture. It needs to last! Use something that will persist. Too often I see ryegrass being sown in areas lucky to keep it for 3-4 years. If in doubt, grow phalaris and clover.
Pick a species that stock will eat. If in doubt, grow phalaris and clover
Pick a species that will allow you to carry decent stocking rates throughout the year. If in doubt grow phalaris and clover
Pick a species that will give you good early growth. In this case pick Holdfast GT Phalaris, and add some clover. This year, no other perennial got near it in Autumn/Winter, and right when we desperately needed it.
Make sure you have a very good clover content. Don’t always go for expensive varieties and then only afford to put a sprinkle of it out there. I like a good base of something like Trikkala Sub Clover which is relatively cheap and we know will persist well. Add a spike of Antas clover which has a massive leaf, is quite erect and contributes to your feed on offer earlier in the season than traditional subs.
Don’t sow your whole farm under one type of pasture or you won’t have the flexibility in maturity patterns that you want to extend your feed quality window. Unfortunately that means you can’t have the whole farm under phalaris and clover. Just most of it.
If you are going to finish your own lambs, I would recommend around 25% of your pasture base be a “finishing” pasture. This could be made up of a combination of very good clover paddocks, Lucerne, plantain, chicory, rape, spring sown canola etc. Remember that rape and canola are useful, but also very low in fibre so difficult to get optimum animal performance.
Before you take the boom spray into a paddock to wipe it out and start again, get some good independent advice about what your best options are. Sometimes some cheap chemical manipulation and better grazing management is all you need for a paddock. If your advice is coming from the person that will sell you the chemical, seed and fertiliser then you can probably do the maths on which way they tend to lean with their recommendation. After all that is their job. (Note – this isn’t a plug for us. We don’t do agronomy. This is a recommendation to have a serious look at who is on your team, working with you, and who is simply selling you stuff).
Most farms suffer from a significant deficiency. It is often severe and limiting productivity. FENCING! If you are going to go to the expense of establishing new pastures, and lifting productivity, you need to be able to control grazing pressure, and make the most of your pasture resource. Smaller paddocks = higher carrying capacity. Not to mention the benefits of smaller mobs at lambing.
Ultimately the aim of your pasture base is to carry an optimum stocking rate, ensure good animal performance, make you immensely proud of what you are achieving, and make you money.