Growing the perfect pasture will not happen overnight but with a few simple steps, you’ll be on your way to the lush green fields you’ve been dreaming of.
This article first appeared in Adelaide Hills Magazine, Autumn 2016
How to grow grass is the number one topic I get asked about from ‘lifestylers’ all over the Adelaide Hills. Grass is, however, not always just grass. A paddock of predominately weeds can lead to low productivity and poor animal health. You’ve heard the old saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side”. If you’re thinking this about your neighbour’s block, it’s probably because they have put in the time and effort to establish a good pasture. By following these simple steps, your pasture will be the one getting all the envy.
Start with a soil test. This is the best way to find out the condition of the soil and what is needed/lacking in order to grow a healthy pasture, such as pH levels and fertiliser.
Have an agronomist and/or nutritionist assess the state of your pasture and recommend pasture varieties that would suit your situation eg, sheep, cattle, horses, alpacas, hay etc. They can also advise whether you need to start all over again (which is this column’s focus), or boost your existing pasture’s productivity with over-sowing.
Reduce competition. This means control the weeds. When setting up a pasture, one method is to spray out the weeds completely in autumn after the opening rains and then to sow an annual variety. An annual is a plant that completes its lifecycle, from germination to the production of seed, within one year and then dies, such as annual ryegrass or oats. I know some people are opposed to spraying. My experience is that older, more conventional methods of tillage can work but may leave you more open to soil erosion, which is a problem in itself, and can promote ongoing weed growth.
Annual pastures can be grazed throughout the year and also ‘locked up’ for hay cuts.
Note: It is good to repeat steps one to four for two to three years. This will reduce weeds and build up the soil profile. I prefer the no-till method of sewing but in cases of very compacted soil, conventional cultivation can be used.
You are now ready to put in the perfect pasture perennial mix. A perennial plant lives for more than two years, such as phalaris and cocksfoot. Start the same as for annuals and get them in nice and early – the optimum time is around Anzac Day. Perennials are slow to establish but they will give you five to 10 years of fantastic feed/hay. It is now not recommended to grow annuals and perennials together, such as the old ‘Hills mix’. The annuals will overgrow and outcompete new perennials, which leaves staggered perennial plants.
Ideally, leave your new perennial pasture ungrazed for the first year. This is where most people come unstuck as livestock will rip young perennial seedlings out by the roots.
Monitor bugs weekly. Red-legged earth mite, lucerne flea, cut worm, snails and slugs can devastate a young pasture in no time – hungry little buggers. Spray and bait as required, seeking advice from licenced professionals.
Don’t cut corners or you will fail. You can’t just bang it in and she’ll be right mate! Get good advice and only renovate in a rotation of one or two paddocks at a time, so you can still handle your livestock. Follow up with bug spraying and fertilising every year.
You may be thinking that this all sounds expensive. Well yes, there is an expense involved but if these steps are followed, you will save money in the long run due to increased productivity. The perfect pasture will only come with the time and attention it deserves. For best results, seek professional advice.
Is your pasture in need of help? Contact us to discuss what is required to suit your specific needs.