Managing spring surplus to maximise future growth and pasture quality

After multiple years of drought, many parts of NSW have seen a growing season to remember. There are some thumping grain crops and more forage growth than we have seen for a long time. Lower capital stock numbers also coincide with this season to remember, which means a lot of people are experiencing a reasonable pasture surplus. Sometimes too much of a surplus can be more of a hindrance as quality rapidly declines and often leaves bare paddocks next autumn/winter. This article provides management tips to help push that surplus into the seasons to come.

Cutting ryegrass for silage in Attunga, NSW
 
 
Step 1: Identify how much pasture you need to feed your stock on hand for the next 2-3 months and reduce the effective grazing area to match intake.

For example, if you have 200ha of pasture that’s growing at 50kg/ha/day you’ll be growing 10,000kgDM per day, if you have 200 Angus cows with a calf at foot, they will be eating approx. 3000kgDM per day.  At current stocking rates there will be a surplus of approximately 7000kgDM per day. Therefore, the cattle should be locked down onto 60-80ha and rotationally grazed around that area as that will match their demand. The rest of the farm can be used for other purposes. Ideally you would put the animals on all terrain that can’t be managed with machinery.
 
 
Step 2: Identify paddocks that aren’t performing as well as others.
 
Hopefully there aren’t too many poor performing paddocks on the farm, however if there are you should be able to notice them now. Look for legume content, desired grass content and how much of the paddock is growing weeds. If there are a lot of weeds or undesirable grass species, you may want to re-sow them next autumn. 
 
 
Step 3 & Step 4: Spraying out poor performing paddocks for summer crop use or summer fallow.
 
Once you have your spring grazing sorted, it’s time to decide whether to grow summer crop or summer fallow for an autumn regrassing programme. Summer crops such as millet or forage sorghum are very useful as they utilise small amounts of rainfall and grow high quality feed to graze over summer, and if they aren’t needed you can make hay or silage with them. Legume crops like lab labs or cow peas can be used to grow high quality forage that also fixes nitrogen, leaving you a fertile paddock to plant into next autumn. Work out how many hectares of summer crop you may need. 

In the example above the 200 cows will require about 40ha of summer crop for 75 days on crop if it was yielding 6MT DM/ha. Using the example above we have now accounted for 120ha of our 200ha farm with 40ha of summer crop and 80ha being grazed by the cattle. 

You don’t need to plant all poor performing paddocks into summer crop, you can just spray them out and conserve soil moisture for autumn, just be wary that you’ll need to monitor for summer weeds and keep them sprayed out, so more than one spray may be required. If you want to regrass 25% of your farm (50 ha) to help with drought recovery, then we would be looking to spray out another 10ha of ground for fallow.
 
 
Step 5: Identify which paddocks can be cut for silage or hay.
 
These paddocks will be ones that are performing well and are growing high quality forage, but you don’t have the stock numbers to graze and maintain quality.
 
If you’ve followed the steps above you’ll have the rest of the farm as a surplus, in this case its 70ha. If you’re aiming to cut high quality silage, 3.5-4.5tDM/ha will be cut, giving you 280tDM to feed out later. With perennial grasses like Hummer tall fescue or Savvy cocksfoot, once the seed head has been removed, they should return to high quality vegetative growth if there is adequate rainfall or irrigation.
 
 
 
 

 

These are the steps you should take to manage your spring surplus:

 

Step 1:  Identify the area required to feed stock on hand for the next 2-3 months
 
Step 2: Identify paddocks that aren’t performing in comparison to others
 
Step 3: Work out how much summer crop is required and spray out poor performing paddocks to go into summer crop.
 
Step 4: Spray out any extra paddocks you want to summer fallow
 
Step 5: Cut remaining paddocks (if terrain allows) for silage or hay. 

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