The Davis family is committed to natural and sustainable dairy farming. One of the first changes they made almost a decade ago was to begin building their soils with biodynamic farming – replacing the majority of their conventional granular fertiliser program with home-made compost.
More recently, new grass varieties have been established on the farm to provide better sustainability and persistence. According to Reggie Davis, ryegrass pastures are often not robust enough to handle the rigours of the extreme climatic conditions experienced on the farm, or the high stocking rates they need to maintain profitability.
“It’s not cheap replanting your pastures every year,” he said.
“Ideally, we want to have pastures with a good density and good persistence that don’t need a truckload of fertiliser every month.”
He started exploring alternatives three years ago, with help from pasture seed specialist, Michael Grant from Stephen Pasture Seeds. The first ryegrass pastures removed were those being grown under irrigation on volcanic soils. Problems with pugging, cracks and crickets were constantly running down the pasture base.
Mr Grant suggested trying Hummer tall fescue, a deep-rooted, summer-active perennial grass as an alternative. Rather than gradually declining over time, Mr Davis says the Hummer keeps getting stronger every year. The Hummer is mixed with white clover and is boosted with their home-made compost, as well as some sulphate of ammonia in the winter.
“Hummer grows like mad in spring, so we often have to cut it for silage to keep up with the growth,” said Mr Davis.
“Even in summer it’s ready to graze again after 12 to 13 days rather than 16 to 20. It loves being grazed.
“These newer release fescue varieties like Hummer are more palatable for the cows than the older style varieties that would cut your tongue if you tried to chew them.”
With the success of these Hummer pastures, Mr Davis turned his attention to a group of paddocks with variable soils. This time, Mr Grant suggested a Hummer tall fescue and Savvy cocksfoot mix. Savvy cocksfoot is a new high yielding cocksfoot variety that is suited to shallow, lighter soils and is disease resistant and bred to tolerate hard grazing.
“The Savvy and Hummer together have been good on our irrigated pastures, with the Savvy dominating on the dry corners of the centre pivot paddocks,” said Mr Davis.