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Pasture management at the farm level

T.R. Hutchings

"Dalyre", Yerong Creek, NSW 2642


Pasture is a complex commodity with a range of end-uses. The pasture management techniques employed to manipulate the timing and type of production from the pasture will be determined to a large extent by the production system that is chosen by the farmer.

The yield of pasture and animal product depends on the system chosen, and is limited primarily by rainfall. Other limiting factors such as disease and nutrient supply work to affect the efficiency of rainfall utilisation. The pasture production potential in the absence of these limiting factors can be estimated for any location from a knowledge of the growing season rainfall. The yield of animal product obtained from a pasture depends on the quantity, quality and harvesting efficiency of the grazing animal. The potential yield and harvesting efficiency of a well managed pasture are largely determined by external factors beyond the control of the farmer. Pasture management must therefore focus on the manipulation of pasture quality.

Pasture quality can be defined as the pasture composition most closely matching the needs of the pasture product chosen. In general legume dominant pastures are preferable to grass pastures for animal production and for integrating pastures and crops. Some enterprises, such as autumn lambing can result in the development of grass dominant pastures, while winter lambing can help to maintain legume dominant pastures. Modern pasture cultivars and chemicals give the farmer close control of pasture composition. It is possible to shift a typical mixed pasture into each of its several components (grass, legume, broadleaf weeds) using different combinations of chemicals and grazing methods. These techniques have short and long term effects on the whole farm system. The effects are poorly understood, at present and techniques need to be used with care.

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