Annual and biennial ryegrasses and clovers can be planted in the autumn to help bridge the winter feed gap, while most permanent species are less active. I suggest ryegrasses, because many advances in plant breeding make this an excellent option. They are easy to establish and grow well in winter and there is usually a variety suited to your area. They can produce prodigious quantities of highly palatable feed, too. With the correct management they can last right through to early summer.
The reasoning behind planting in autumn is that the soil temperature and day length encourage quick establishment and there is less competition from weeds. They can be ready to be grazed in as little as 4 weeks in ideal conditions.
An improved pasture, ideally, should have a perennial grass species as a base. One or two permanent grass species is all you need. Investigate what grass species are already present. If there are some pasture species present that are well regarded in your district, encourage them buy slashing and topdressing with a suitable fertiliser blend. This should also help you get rid of weeds and native species. If your block is bit run down it may take an integrated approach and several slashings and topdressings to culture a desirable permanent pasture base.
When renovating, timing is crucial. Make sure there is not a possibility of a late heat wave as summer fades. Hot temperatures will burn off seedlings. Timing really is a trade off between maximizing your growing period and getting a good seedling strike, while all the time, you are at the mercy of having enough rainfall to get you underway. There are, however, a few management strategies you can do to increase your chances of a successful strike.
Because we are not using specialised sowing implements we are going to use high sowing rates. A good rule of thumb for your sowing rates is a bag of ryegrass (25kg) to the hectare or 10kg to the acre, in the old money. This is a pretty generous rate. Most seed companies do a renovator blend that has some clover seed mixed through – a good idea. The best way to distribute your seed is to throw it out with some starter fertiliser. A bag (50kg) to the acre is a good all round figure. If you have already identified your paddock as being nutrient deficient it may be a better strategy to lime and/or topdress at least 4 weeks before sowing, as potassium salts and nitrates found in fertilisers can burn seedings. Otherwise topdress after seedlings have been established, say 6 weeks.
A Silvan super spreader behind your trusty SOTA Kubota is a simple method of sowing. This method of dispersal allows you to cover a lot of ground in a narrow time frame. This is especially handy if you are expecting rain. To get an even distribution of fertiliser and seed, it is well worth putting extra effort into blending the fertiliser and seed properly as it goes into the super spreader hopper. Use a face mask if you’re a bit squeamish about inhaling allergens and heavy metals.
To give your seedlings the best start possible, remove as much vegetation as possible before sowing, as this reduces competition from established grasses, particularly the effects of shading and strangulation. This may be done by heavily grazing a paddock or slashing. Rake if necessary to remove windrows and excess material. Once the seed and fertiliser are on the ground it is a good idea to try and integrate it. Harrowing is a good way to do this, as is running your stock over the paddock, letting their hooves push the seed in. Sow one area at a time. Given that the stock will be denied access to part of the farm, you may have to supplementary feed to compensate. You need to remove your animals, otherwise they will select these delectable little morsels as they emerge. The result of which is that the establishing plant is completely removed or it hasn’t got the reserves to grow back. In both cases, the plant is lost.
To ascertain the best time to introduce your stock back onto the pasture, you can use your Blundstone boot. The cattle go in when the ryegrass is at the top of the elastic of your boot. You can judge the time to move the cattle off when the pasture is grazed down to the bottom of the elastic.
To give your pasture the best chance, continue to evaluate how much pasture to ration and/or how long the duration of the grazing should be through out the establishment phase. It is important that you do not have constant grazing pressure until the grass forms an established sward.