Native pasture grasses

Native Pasture grasses for your animals!

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More beef cattle and sheep graze on native grasses than on other pasture grasses in all the grazing areas of Australia. This is because extensive areas of rangeland are grazed at very low stocking rates. However, there is also a large amount of grazing that occurs on the so-called natural pastures of southern Australia where either pasture renovation has not occurred or where the native grasses have re-established onto previously cultivated land

Many graziers are now realising that there is considerable benefit in having native grasses in their pastures or as the main bulk of the pasture. The native grasses are known to be highly persistent, highly tolerant of poor soil and environmental conditions, well adapted to the range of soils found in Australia and reliably able to produce forage of high quality. They have been present in Australia for many millions of years and have adapted to being grazed regularly, so it should be no surprise that they are quite capable of producing high value pastures.

The following data was provided by Meredith Mitchell, Research scientist, with the Department of Primary Industries, Victoria at the Corowa Field Day on March 15, 2005.

 

The keys to managing native grass pastures are as follows:

  1. Complete an audit of native pasture to see what plants are there.
  2. Develop a plan for management of the pasture
  3. Manage grazing pressure
  4. Manage fertiliser inputs carefully
  5. Introduce a suitable legume.

 

 

Existing native grass pastures Many graziers are lucky enough to have large populations of native grasses on their properties and to have pastures that are predominantly comprised of native grasses. In these cases careful management will produce great benefits. There is now considerable data to suggest that native grass pastures in low fertility conditions, if rotationally grazed rather than being set-stocked, are able to produce more wool or beef than exotic annual grass pastures. The key to management of these pastures is a correct identification of the grasses that are present and based on that, an understanding of the correct management practices for those grasses in the location and with the environmental conditions of that season.

A number of surveys have shown that many of these native-dominated pastures have arisen from pastures previously sown to exotic species, but where the exotic species have declined to very low levels through drought, high temperatures, low pH or low soil fertility. Under these conditions the natives have grown well and become dominant and highly productive.

Often it is the presence of nearby paddocks of native grasses that helps to provide seed for the re-establishment of the pasture, or it can be soil-stored seed that finally finds an opportunity to grow. The management of the pastures to enhance the recruitment of more desired plants is the subject to much on-going work by researchers across Australia.

Establishment of new native grass pastures For those that do not have a significant percentage of native grasses already present in their pastures, it is likely that they will have to sow at least one native grass in order to provide a backbone around which the other species will develop. It is our view that the choice of the backbone species should be based on knowledge of the grasses that are most prevalent locally, the availability of high quality seed and, very importantly, the weeds that are likely to be a concern.

Our own experience on one particular seed production area has been useful. We had the soil conditions correct, we had a species to sow that was prevalent in the area, we had the correct season, but we did not have the weed control in place. We established the grass (wallaby grass in this case) very well, but one annual grass weed quickly became dominant. We ultimately gave up on this sowing and resowed the same paddock at a time of year that did not favour the weed and had a successful establishment. It all comes to knowing the conditions in which you are trying to establish a pasture.

pasture_recipe
We recommend sowing only one grass as a backbone species. There should be more than one variety of that species if possible to provide for more flexibility in coping with environmental changes. Once it is established and being maintained appropriately many other native grass species will enter the system, usually from soil seed banks, and the number of species, or the biodiversity, of the pasture will increase over time.

 

These native grass species can produce the following results:
Production (t/ha) Digestibility (%) Crude Protein
Wallaby grass 1.8 to 7.8 55 to 69% 10 to 18%
Redgrass 3.8 to 10.4 58 to 69% 9 to 13%
Windmill grass 2 33 to 72% 8 to 15%
Common wheat grass 3.4 to 7 63 to 71% 14 to 17%
Weeping grass 1.7 to 7.4 58 to 72% 11 to 21%
Kangaroo grass 1.6 to 8.3 62 to 68% 8 to 11%

 

Common introduced grasses for comparison:

Cocksfoot                             61 to 67% 11 to 16%
Phalaris 66 to 68% 13 to 18%

There is no one perfect grass or legume. All species have both strengths and weaknesses for both livestock production and conservation.  Native grasses provide year round sustainable pastures on Australia’s thin brittle soils and low rainfall.