Add to collection
  • + Create new collection
  • New Zealand dairy farming is pastured-based. Discover a few of the commonly used plant species.

    New Zealand dairy farming is pastured-based. There are many plant species available to suit regional growing conditions and animal nutritional needs. Commonly grown species are featured in this interactive.

    To use this interactive, move your mouse or finger over any of the labelled boxes and click to obtain more information.

    This interactive also features in the activity Observing pasture composition.


    New Zealand pasture species

    New Zealand dairy farming is pastured-based. Perennial ryegrass and white clover are the mainstay of most farming systems, with other plant species integrated into pasture or planted as special-purpose crops. Each plant species has cultivars bred to suit particular climates, soil types and farm systems.

    Persistence (lifespan), optimal growing seasons, nutritional qualities, pest resistance and grazing management differ between the various species and their cultivars.

    Image: A variety of species can be seen in this pasture. It is referred to as a ‘mixed sward’. © DairyNZ.


    Perennial ryegrass is the most widely sown pasture grass in Aotearoa New Zealand. It grows well in most conditions, is easy to manage and, as a perennial, will grow for many years.

    Annual and Italian ryegrass species are less persistent but are quick to establish and provide winter and early spring feed.

    Ryegrass provides high-quality feed.

    Image: Italian ryegrass, © DairyNZ


    Cocksfoot is a hardy, drought-tolerant perennial grass. Its deep roots enable it to continue growing during summer. It mixes well with perennial ryegrass and tall fescue.

    Cocksfoot is a lower-quality feed than ryegrass.

    Iimage: © DairyNZ.

    Tall fescue

    Tall fescue is an alternative to perennial ryegrass. It has deeper roots so it is better adapted to hot, dry conditions. Pastures with tall fescue usually have higher clover contents.

    Tall fescue is similar to or lower in feed quality than ryegrass.

    Image: © DairyNZ.


    Kikuyu is a vigorous, deep-rooted perennial grass that grows in Northland and northern coastal areas. It is drought tolerant and sensitive to frost. Kikuyu can form dense mats that suppress ryegrass and clover.

    Kikuyu feed value is variable, losing quality in the autumn and winter.

    Image: © DairyNZ.


    Clover is a legume. Its ability to fix nitrogen improves pasture production.

    White clover is a perennial and is widely grown in combination with ryegrass. Red clover is short-lived – lasting around 2–4 years.

    Clover provides high-quality feed.

    Image: Red clover in flower. © DairyNZ.


    Lucerne is a perennial legume. It is drought tolerant – its deep taproot can extract water during the drier summer months. Some lucerne varieties can be used for grazing while others are grown for silage or hay.

    Lucerne provides high-quality feed.

    Image: © DairyNZ.

    Plantain cultivars

    Plantain is a herb that is easy to establish and grows well in most pasture systems. Its root system enables plantain to tolerate dry conditions. Plantain is grown in a pasture mix or as a special-purpose crop.

    Plantain provides high-quality feed.

    Image: Main image is a pure plantain crop with an inset of plantain in flower in a mixed pasture. © DairyNZ.


    Chicory is a leafy herb. It is drought tolerant – its deep taproot can extract water during the drier summer months. Chicory is grown in a pasture mix or as a special-purpose crop. It is a short-lived herb, lasting a year or two under dairy grazing.

    Chicory provides high-quality feed.

    Image: Chicory being measured in the pasture and a close-up view of the leaves. © DairyNZ.


    This resource has been produced with the support of DairyNZ.

    Rights: DairyNZ and The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato Published 15 April 2021 Size: 5.4 MB Referencing Hub media
          Go to full glossary
          Download all