Pasture improvement on small farms – Part 2: Enhancing existing pasture

This is the second part in our series on improving the pasture on your small farm. Part 1 addresses the reasons and methods for completely renewing an old pasture, while this part discusses ways to enhance an existing pasture without the large renewal cost.

If the time and cost required to establish a brand-new pasture is out of reach, or your state vegetation act doesn’t allow it, then there are a number of other management activities that can be undertaken to improve the existing pasture. 

These include applying fertiliser/lime/gypsum, selective spraying of weeds, broadcasting legume seeds, slashing of dead material and grazing management.

Pasture improvement on small farms

Apply fertiliser/lime/gypsum
A poor producing pasture can be the result of incorrect pH, poor soil structure, low soil nutrients, or a combination of these. 

Undertaking a soil test and applying a suitable fertiliser (nitrogen, phosphorus, sulphur) to correct this deficiency is often the best first step in increasing pasture quantity and quality.

Soil ameliorants like gypsum and lime do not readily move through the soil profile, so it will take time for them to incorporate and correct the soil. Where lime is being applied, the contractor should water it down prior to spreading in order to reduce dust. Alternatively, a prilled form of lime can be purchased and spread using a standard spreader.

Selective spraying of weeds
Pastures that contain high levels of weeds are often unproductive, as weeds compete for space, water and sunlight. A good method to increase pasture growth is using a selective herbicide that only targets those specific weeds and leaves the desired pasture behind. 

Broadcasting of legume seeds
Broadcasting legume (sub, white clover) seed is a cost-effective way of increasing the quality of the pasture, with an ideal pasture containing 70% grasses/herbs and 30% legumes. Legumes don’t use nitrogen from the soil but fix their own nitrogen and once they die and break down, this becomes available to other plants. The seed needs to be inoculated with suitable rhizobia bacteria for this to occur. It can be evenly mixed together and spread with fertiliser, reducing the application cost. Consider using an insecticide and/or ant treatment on the seed to stop them being carried away.

Slashing of dead material
Dead plant material is not easily digested by livestock. Pastures with high levels of dead material result in poor livestock production. Slashing is an ideal way of removing this dead material. This activity also allows increased levels of sunlight to reach beneficial legume species like sub and white clover.

Grazing management
Controlled or cell grazing is a good way to improve your pasture’s productivity/diversity and increase the cycling of nutrients, by the even distribution of livestock manure and levels of organic matter breakdown. 
This usually requires a high stocking density for a short time period, followed by a long rest. Because smaller land owners often do not have access to large numbers of livestock, reducing the area being grazed – by temporary electric fencing – is a good option.  

In summary
Small area farmers can enjoy production and income benefits from pasture improvement that are similar to their larger counterparts. The success of a pasture improvement program and ensuring a return on your investment depends of the ability of the farmer to use any extra pasture grown. This may involve a few strategies including agistment, the purchase of extra livestock, or cutting of hay or silage.

Where to from here?
For further information on pasture improvement, purchase a copy of AgGuide - Pastures in a farming system.

Acknowledgement: Image is courtesy of Premium Property Care

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