Native Grass Horse Pasture courtesy of Horses and People magazine. This is Queensland bluegrass (Dicanthium sericeum) and Curly Windmill (Enteropogon acicularis).
Horse pasture establishment using native grasses
This brief note explains how to establish our grasses by horse owners. The majority of horse owners that purchase seed from us have small paddocks, lots of animals and no farm equipment. These pose a few issues, but with a bit of resourcefulness, they can be overcome.
There are several ingredients to getting a good result with seeding of these grasses.
1. Have the weeds under control
All seedlings, but especially the slower-growing native grass seeds need to have a competition-free environment to allow them to establish at their pace. Start early to get the weeds under control by whatever means you desire – cultivation, herbicides or combinations of those two. Simply overgrazing is not sufficient to control weeds as this only removes the green leaf and usually does not kill the plant.
It is often best to allow a flush of weeds to germinate and then to kill this off prior to sowing the native grass seeds. It removes a fair percentage of the weed seeds from within the soil and reduces some of the competition.
2. Create a seedbed
The seeds will not germinate or establish well if you are broadcasting them onto a hard surface or existing foliage. For good germination, the seed needs to be in close contact with soil and leaving seed exposed on a hard surface will give poor germination results. Equally however, it is not essential that a full seedbed be prepared. It is sufficient for a simple roughing of the surface to provide the seeds with niches in which to get off the surface. We have successfully established grasses using the preparation of no more than dragging a set of harrows around to create little grooves.
3. Spread the seed evenly
Take care to divide your bag of seed into two or three equal parts then try to make each part cover the paddock as evenly as possible. With each separate part travel in a different direction so that you are sowing in rows. It helps to get it very even across the paddock. Don’t get too hung up about the method of sowing – just get the seed out as evenly as possible then run over it with a set of harrows or something like that.
4. Bury the seed
All of our grass seeds seem to germinate best if they are covered lightly with soil or compost. They do not need to be covered with more than 3 to 5 mm of soil, just sufficient to keep them underground. Mulching with a well-degraded compost usually works well. But don’t make it too thick – just a thin cover will do.
This is the key to success or failure. They need to be kept moist after sowing. This is why we suggest sowing with rainfall or soon after and when temperatures are not too high. If irrigation is available for the establishment period, then aim to keep the soil moist for around 3 to 4 weeks after sowing
6. Know what you are looking for
To know whether you have success or failure with the establishment, you will need to know what the seedlings look like. The best way to do this is to sow a small amount of the same seed type in a test row in the paddock. Make sure it is labelled and well marked so you can check it regularly. We always put out a generous amount of seed in a narrow row about half a metre long and marked with a stick at each end. Then, as long as the area where it is sown is typical of the rest of the paddock, it will tell you exactly what the seedlings look like in the field and how they are developing. It will also tell you which seedlings are weeds.
7. Be patient
The seedlings of the native grasses are not as fast to establish as the introduced grasses, especially ryegrass. They will test your resolve at some times, but if you are persistent and patient, you will get the desired result. It means not grazing until the plants are well established, and that means well established, not just having five leaves or so, but having a strong root system and being a robust plant. Preferably wait until the plants have shed seed onto the soil as this will thicken it up over the coming years.
8.Use good quality seed
With native grass seed as with most things, you get what you pay for. High-quality seed (high germination rate with very few weeds) will always give a better result than low-quality seed. The seed grew from purposely grown crops will always have greater vigour than those from wild collections as the seed has developed under more friendly conditions.
We hope with these few points to give some guidance as to how to get a good result from your seeding of native grasses. Naturally you can contact us to get some specific advice for your particular situation.
Margaret Hansen speaks to Carol Hogg from Native Seeds about the difference in native vs. non native grasses for the health of horses and ponies.
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Australian native grasses are low in NSC’s and are highly palatable for horses.
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- Low in NSCs to prevent laminitis
- Highly palatable
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All new Gallop Horse Pasture Seed Mix
We’ve custom selected some of the best, low NSC pasture grasses to help in the prevention of laminitis in your horses and ponies!
How to sow Gallop Horse Pasture
This mix comprises three cool season native grasses – wheat grass, wallaby grass and weeping grass all of which will germinate over the cooler months from Autumn through to mid Spring in southern Australia. They are dependant on adequate soil moisture for germination and will not germinate if the soil is dry or becomes dry. Usually during the cooler months there are few issues with adequate soil moisture as long as the seed is buried a little way into the soil.
Sometimes heavy frosts can remove moisture from the soil so you might need to be wary of sowing in mid winter if you are in an area that is prone to heavy frosts. They can also germinate during the warm months but you will need to be irrigating the seed frequently to keep a constant moisture supply around the seed.
Further info on sowing pasture grasses with success
In response to a recent email, Dr. Ian Chivers gave some great information on how to successfully sow native pasture.
“The success from sowing is strongly dependent upon the preparation that can be put in. The more weed control you have completed prior to sowing the better. Similarly the more of a seedbed created prior to sowing the better.
At one end of the spectrum there is simply sowing onto existing pasture with no seedbed preparation which will yield very few seedlings and the pasture will not change much. At the other end is full seedbed preparation involving cultivation (possibly chemical as well as mechanical) and drilling seeding into the top layer of soil – this will yield the greatest results. In between are a host of alternative methods, dragging harrows and broadcasting, broadcasting and then running sheep over to trample the seed in, mulching after broadcast, drilling over denuded areas, and so on. They all will yield intermediate results.
The key ingredients are to remove as much as possible of the existing weed burden and to create a method for getting the seed into contact with the soil, and preferably buried under 5 to 10 mm of soil. These steps are important as they will help to firstly remove weed completion to the emerging seedlings and hence to increase survival rates through to maturity. Secondly they help to keep a higher content of moisture in the soil around the seed, which for most species is the trigger for germination.
If you are sowing our Gallop horse pasture it is best sown in the cooler months when there is adequate moisture retention around the seed, so for you in WA the sowing window will extend from April until around September.
Once sown please keep the horses off the area for at least 5 months until the plants are large enough to tolerate trampling and grazing. I would encourage you to allow one season of seed production prior to grazing if that is possible.
A handy hint her is to put two pegs in the ground about 1 metre apart in a place which is typical of the paddock and where it is easy for you to examine. Into this row sow a single row of seed and bury it. This will then become your guide as to seedling germination and identification. It will tell you when your Gallop horse pasture is germinating and what the various seedlings look like. Remember they are not all going to germinate on the same day, but at least it will show you exactly what is coming up.
I hope this helps.
Native Pasture grasses for your animals!
Click to browse our top quality native pasture grasses in our online store!
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:
- Complete an audit of native pasture to see what plants are there.
- Develop a plan for management of the pasture
- Manage grazing pressure
- Manage fertiliser inputs carefully
- 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.
|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.