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New pasture and the first graze

New pasture and the first graze

New pasture and the first graze

The first, and then subsequent, grazing of any new pasture or crop is essential for its long-term persistence with perennial ryegrasses and successful multi grazing/cutting for annuals.

Correct grazing management over the first 12 months, post sowing, has a significant long-term effect on its botanical composition and persistence. This means grazing at the correct time, and to the correct level, will have a positive outcome if you do it right.

  1. Light grazing encourages tillering of grass and branching of white clover but can only be undertaken when newly established plants cannot be easily pulled out. This is usually about 6 to 10 weeks after sowing.
  2. A well timed first grazing using the lightest stock class available will prevent fast establishing species, such as ryegrasses, shading out slower establishing species, such as clovers and herbs.
  3. Weeds, especially annuals, can be controlled, or at least reduced, by short sharp grazing of newly established pastures as they are more likely to be soft and palatable when they are young and immature.
  4. Ensure cultivated soil is consolidated. This will help the roots give the plants a good anchor and reduce pulling when being grazed, especially in the plant's early stages of establishment.

A newly established conventionally sown or direct drilled pasture is ready to graze when it passes the ‘pull test’. This involves grasping the seedling and giving a firm pull. If the leaves break, rather than the roots pulling out, then the pasture is ready to graze with light stock.

The timing of the first graze depends on the time of sowing, seedbed consolidation/firmness and the plant species used. Seedling plants will be better anchored when sown into a well-consolidated seedbed or when direct drilled. For faster establishing pastures, including ryegrass or white clover, this will be about 6 to 8 weeks (or about 10 cm in height). In comparison, slower establishing pastures, such as tall fescue and clover, may take over 10 weeks.

Plants should reach 10 to 12 cm before the first grazing, and the initial grazings should be with lighter stock (sheep or rising one-year old cattle) over a short period of time, removing one-third to half the leaf area on offer or down to 1,200 to 1,500 kg of dry matter per hectare (5 cm height).

Following this management for the first three to five grazings will promote clovers and herbs within the sward and reduce damage caused by over-grazing and pugging.

The grazing management of recently oversown pastures is similar to that of other pastures with frequent rotational grazing recommended. An additional requirement is the control of re-growth of the existing species; failure to do this can lead to unsuccessful establishment due to competition.

Grazing should start at a cover of about 1,300 kg of dry matter per hectare and continue until the pasture mass is about 800 kg of dry matter per hectare. Do not to set-stock oversown clovers in the first spring, as preferential grazing will remove them from the pasture sward.

To achieve a high clover content, allow clovers to flower and re-seed in the first season. This is especially important for annual clovers, such as sub clover, that need to develop a seed bank in the first year for successful establishment in the second and third years following sowing. This is difficult in a dairy system but works well with sheep.

For further advice on the timings of grazing on new pasture, speak with your local PGG Wrightson Technical Field Representative.