Managing and improving native pastures
Native pastures are the plant and grass species that naturally grow in specific regions with little human input. They are species that thrive in local climates and soil conditions. In New South Wales for example, there are numeous native species including Arrowleaf Clover, Rye Grass, Cocksfoot and Common Wheatgrass to name a few. Most are perennial species which regrow after being grazed or mowed, if your pasture is well-managed.
The importance of native pastures
Managing and improving native pastures is important for improving soil fertility, conserving water and preserving a healthy biodiversity system on your property. Native pastures are also a low input, cost effective feed source for livestock in Australia.
Unfortunately, native pastures can be damaged and even eradicated if they are mismanaged. Overgrazing, high stocking rates, limited rest periods, invasive weed growth and disease, are some of the causes of damaged native pastures.
How to manage and improve native pastures
There are numerous practices and strategies to manage and improve native pastures. Identifying what native and perennial pastures exist in your local region and understanding their growth patterns and preferred environment, allows you to adopt strategies to foster new improved pastures and protect your existing native pastures.
MLA (Meat and Livestock Australia) suggest maintaining “at least 70% ground cover to protect the soil against excessive water loss by run-off, evaporation from the soil surface, erosion and reduce the establishment of annual and broadleaf weed species”.
Incorporating a variety of species into your existing pasture including grasses, oats, legumes and brassicas, will provide numerous benefits for your property. These include increased feed quality for your livestock, improved soil health, the prevention of soil erosion and increased weed suppression, while also enabling livestock grazing periods to be extended.
Having mixed species that have different growth patterns and thrive at different times throughout the year, means that you will continuously have native pastures for livestock grazing. Adding oats and brassicas to your pasture management system diversifies your livestock forage. Brassicas including kale, turnip, canola, mustard and radish, to name a few, all add value to your overall pasture health in different ways. Some are fast-growing which helps with rejuvenation after livestock grazing and others are richer in certain nutrients that boost soil health.
The mixed species will also provide for a broader range of nutritional elements, boosting stock health. For example incorporating legumes like lucerne and medic into your pasture will boost nitrogen levels in the soil, which is essential for plant growth.
When choosing species to add to your native pastures, it’s important you have a good understanding of your growing conditions and environment, as different species will grow better in different environments.
Stock grazing management
Grazing management is an important aspect of managing your native pastures. Overgrazing and overstocking are common causes of destroyed native and perennial pastures.
You can introduce rotational grazing to prevent overgrazing in one specific area. Either move stock to an alternate paddock or implement strip grazing. Graze particular pastures at certain times of the year and don’t graze during the seed setting and flowering stage of a particular species. Allow pastures to rest and recover between grazing periods. This gives the plants a chance to rejuvenate.
Adjust your stocking rates to match the carrying capacity. Consider your paddock size, the growth rate of the native plants and seasonal changes as they occur. Properly managed stock numbers will help maintain healthy pastures and ensure sustainable forage growth.
Weed control is a critical aspect to managing and improving your native pastures. You need to monitor invasive weed germination and take action to eradicate these before they overrun the native and perennial species.
Weeds naturally grow in dry and tough conditions or after floods when seed has been washed onto your property. When weeds set in on your property, forage quality and quantity diminishes as weeds not only lack nutritional value but some can be toxic to livestock.
There are ways to naturally suppress the growth of invasive weeds and these include planting cover crops, mulching, mowing and rotating crops.
Monitoring and adaptive management
It is important to adapt to changing conditions and seasonal variations. Following floods or during droughts, often weeds will take over as the native species roots are damaged. It is especially important to monitor and carry out pasture improvements and implement strategies for pasture rejuvenation following these events.
Carry out regular assessments and evaluate your current soil and pasture health. Are weeds taking over? Is there poor growth? Or is there evidence of soil degradation in areas? Conduct soil tests to determine whether certain nutrients are lacking and whether additional fertilisation is required. This helps with selecting which species to introduce to your existing native pastures. Carry out aeration and seeding to introduce new seeds and promote stronger and healthier root systems.
Maintaining healthy native pastures means continuously monitoring and making improvements throughout the year, adapting to different growing conditions and responding to various seasonal events.
Benefits of managing and improving native pastures
Managing and improving your native pasture is a continuous long-term project and requires a comprehensive approach. An approach that includes introducing mixed species, pasture rejuvenation, choosing suitable perennial pastures and careful stock management, is recommended. It is essential to allow you to meet your ongoing livestock grazing requirements and maintain a sustainable and healthy natural ecosystem on your property.
The key benefits of managing and improving your native pastures are:
improved soil health
increased livestock forage
extended livestock grazing periods
optimised animal health
reduction in the amount of weed growth
the ability to manage the effects of a drought
a healthy biodiversity system.
AusCut services the agricultural industry by manufacturing innovative Australian made, high-quality farm machinery that can be used for managing and improving native pastures. Contact one of our friendly team members on 1800 517 417 to discuss effective strategies to manage and improve your native pastures.