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Winter grazing of annual pastures

Grazing decisions over winter affect the quality, quantity and composition of pasture.

Annual pastures usually enter a phase of active growth during winter when plants have become established and are mature enough to withstand being grazed. This is known as the vegetative phase.

Grazing management through this phase should aim to meet animal production needs, while being sensitive to the long-term productivity and sustainability of the pasture.

Grazing can also play a role in:

  • promoting plant tillering in grasses and branching in clovers
  • weed control and reducing insect populations
  • promoting young shoot growth to maintain palatability.

It is important not to over graze at this time. During winter, over-grazing can reduce pasture’s capacity to regrow. Small plants with poor root development may also be susceptible to cold stress or insect attack during this period.

Minimum Feed On Offer

A minimum feed on offer (FOO) of 1000 kilograms of dry matter per hectare (kg DM/ha) is recommended going into winter.

As a  general rule: higher FOO means more leaf area and faster pasture regrowth.

Grazing tactics for winter

Strip grazing and intensive grazing are two effective ways to increase pasture utilisation and profitability during winter.

Strip grazing

Strip grazing is sometimes called ration grazing. It involves confining stock onto smaller areas or ‘strips’ in the paddock for short periods of time to increase FOO during winter. Electric fencing can be used to set up strips.  

It is a valuable management approach for farmers wanting to increase stocking rates, maintain stocking rates in poorer seasons, or improve the quality of stock produced.

Pasture is rationed to animals in the strip and intake can be adjusted to achieve a target level of production such as weight gain or liveweight maintenance.

Confining animals in a small area removes the grazing pressure on the remaining pasture, resulting in larger leaf area and faster pasture growth in the un-grazed areas. With more feed available higher stocking rates may be possible, along with a reduced need for supplementary feed.

Note: Strip grazing is rarely necessary for low stocking rates in winter pastures unless pasture growth is hindered by soil fertility or low plant density.

Intensive grazing

Intensive grazing to a target FOO is a management technique for established pastures and would normally be considered a spring tactic. However, an early break and a mild winter may mean pastures establish quicker and can be intensively grazed to a target FOO through winter.

This approach adjusts the amount of pasture eaten to match the growth rate of the pasture. Pasture consumption matches pasture production so that FOO remains constant.

Note:  if there is a late break it may be necessary to wait until the FOO target is reached later in spring before commencing intensive grazing.

Talk to your Valley Seeds Regional Sales Manager to choose the best  varieties to suit your preferred  grazing management approach. Whatever the season, we are here to help.

Animal health

The nutritive value of a pasture changes as the pasture matures. Protein and energy levels, as well as digestibility, tend to peak just before the plant reaches its reproductive phase.

Note: Consult an agronomist before introducing new grazing practices. Pasture systems can present a range of animal health issues associated with mineral deficiencies, as well as scouring and bloat, which can limit weight gain and in extreme cases can lead to death.

Sources

Grazing annual pastures – using feed on offer (FOO) as a guide – WA Department of Primary Industries & Regional Development

Fill the winter feed gap” – Evergraze: More Livestock from Perennials 

Natural Resource Management South – Fact Sheet – Pasture & Grazing

For more information

Contact our head office on 1800 226 905 or email info@valleyseeds.com with your enquiry

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