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  • Rights: DairyNZ and The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato
    Published 15 April 2021 Referencing Hub media

    DairyNZ experts tell us what plants are typically in pastures, why they are important and why pasture management is key to good production.

    Questions for discussion:

    • What does Elena mean when she calls pasture a community of species?
    • Why is pasture so important to farming?
    • Elena says that farmers select pasture species depending on what environment they live in. Where might farmers find this information?
    • What other aspects and nutrient cycles should farmers consider when making pasture management decisions?


    Dr Elena Minnée

    The term pasture, actually, it refers to an area of land that’s covered in a range of species of quite low-growing forage that livestock can graze. And it is not one species, it’s a community of species.

    Kieran McCahon

    If you have a look around, you’ll see different colours. The greens are our grass species, our ryegrasses, our cocksfoots, our tall fescues. Sometimes we’ve got some herbs in there, so plantain or chicory.

    Dr Ina Pinxterhuis

    But also importantly, the legumes that we grow, like clover. That’s an important aspect of our New Zealand pastures and the nitrogen cycle as well.

    Ben Fisher

    Clover provides a really high-quality feed for the cows, and they love it when it’s growing well.

    Dr Elena Minnée

    Legumes are very, very high in protein, and high-producing dairy cows do need a lot of protein to keep producing that milk. But also, legumes have nodules in their root system that are filled with microorganisms that fix the nitrogen. They turn that nitrogen into a form that the plants, not just themselves, but plants surrounding the clover – lucerne is another legume – and that reduces the amount of synthetic fertilisers that people would have to apply physically, so it’s a more natural process of returning that nitrogen.

    ieran McCahon

    So there’s specific reasons for including different species. Ryegrass, for example, yields well across the year.

    Dr Elena Minnée

    What farmers select to use depends on what issue or what environment they live in. It’s about maintaining an even feed supply for the farmer to feed his animals.

    Ben Fisher

    Pasture quality is key. It’s really important to manage your pastures well, so they can have that high-quality feed and they can thrive, and you get better production from your animals. Pasture management is looking at your pastures, going out on farm, actually looking at what you’ve got. It’s measuring how much you’ve got there at the time, how much it’s growing, what the quality is like and so then calculating how much feed you’ve got to be able to feed your animals.

    Pasture needs good soil to start. It needs the right level of nutrients and fertilisers. It needs good moisture. It also needs to be managed well, so avoid doing damage to the pasture – pugging, that kind of thing. When there’s a good amount of sun and the right temperatures to grow as well.


    Dr Elena Minnée
    Kieran McCahon
    Dr Ina Pinxterhuis
    Ben Fisher
    Grace Gibberd
    Truck spreading urea, from Good Fertiliser Practices, courtesy of Bay of Plenty Regional Council, Ministry for Primary Industries and Ballance Agri-Nutrients.


    This resource has been produced with the support of DairyNZ.

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