Pasture improvement for a novice

10 posts

Member for

10 years 2 months
Last seen: 03/08/2018 - 21:05
Joined: 09/23/2011 - 16:27

Pasture improvement for a novice

Dear Nice Farmstyle People

We have a 35 acre hobby farm in Hartley Valley on the western side of the Blue Mountains. We are at  850 metres ASL and get 600 to 700 mm rain per year. We are on the shales and sandstones that underlay the Blue Mountains. We have some well-drained soil and some damper ground. Soils are typically 600mm to 800mm deep, sandy loan before getting into heavy clays. We run a small flock of  sheep - 30 at the moment with this years lambs, a nice veggie garden and some chooks. We eat our male lambs and breed off the ewes. We have a creek running through the property which runs all year round, but it dried up in the drought. About half of our ground is suitable for grazing. I havn't done any soil testing so far.

We would like to look after the grazing areas and maintain or improve soil fertility and I wondered about doing some pasture improvement.

But I dont have a clue where to start. I dont know how to prepare the ground and dont know if I need to spray it first or plough it or whatever. Some of the ground has heavy tussock and eucalypt saplings so I guess I have to clear those first? We dont have a tractor but borrow on old Massey Ferguson 35X from a neighbour to slash. 

I have read one of the older forum posts about pasture improvement and it helped, but my needs are even more basic.

Can you give me some guidance about what to do next? It would certainly be appreciated.

cheers

Greg M

Last seen: 03/08/2018 - 21:05
Joined: 10/20/2011 - 16:16

Hi Greg

Welcome to the forums and thanks for saying we're nice (we are!)

Developing pastures is essentially a 3 part job, carried out more or less  together. It involves introduction of fertility, introduction of 'improved' pasture species, and grazing management to meld the improved fertility and improved species together.

The last point can be a bit hard for the novice to understand, but what it is about, is, that pastures benefit from stock grazing them relatively intensely so that the dung and urine they produce activates the fertility introduced (via applied fertilisers) for the introduced improved pasture species to take advantage of. This is an important part of pasture improvement from raw 'unfertile' ground.

Improving pastures via cultivation is a quicker way of getting results, and the best results are usually attained via a forage crop, like winter or summer turnips - which ever contributes to your feed demands best. Cultivation allows the opportunity to deep cultivate, aerate and incorporate fertiliser and lime to depth but it is the dung and urine's 'activation' properties, as introduced when stock eat the forage crop, that is the 'X' factor that makes the real difference. What is actually happening is that the dung and urine are (obviously) activating and introducing microbial life to the system that wasn't there previously which in turn cycle and utilise the introduced fertility and so on. This is poorly understood by many agronomists but many are waking up to this. Pastures can still be improved just through grazing and fertiliser and lime, it's just slower that's all.

Regardless, you starting point is a comprehensive soil test.  Introducing 'improved' pasture species without addressing fertility is a waste of time and money, as they require improved fertilitity to perform. A soil test will provide very important information as to what soil fertility elements are required and what the fertiliser priorities are. (They could be just lime in the first instance.)

I'd strongly reccommend you consider a soil test and interpretation we sell on Farmstyle ie

http://farmstyle.com.au/book/soil-test-interpretation-results-fertiliser-recommendation-pastures-crops-and-horticulture

It'll be some of the best money you'll spend on the farm.

I hope these comments help but if you need clarification, please just ask

Roger

Last seen: 03/08/2018 - 21:05
Joined: 09/23/2011 - 16:27

Dear Roger

Wonderful thank you. Thanks for explaining the logic behind your answer. Is the $195 cost for the soil sampling for just one sample, because presuambly I need a number of samples to get an understanding of the chemistry?

cheers

Greg

Last seen: 12/26/2018 - 09:21
Joined: 05/31/2011 - 09:44

Hi Greg,

The $195 is for one soil test, interpretation and recommendation. When you conduct a soil test you collect multiple soil samples (usually 0-15cm), mix them together to form a representative sample. If you purchase the soil testing service we send you out sampling instructions and a reply paid envelope. 

It is common for farmers to test by soil type as this will provide a good guide to the soils inherent properties. Where funds allow and where you wish to be more accurate with your management a soil test can be conducted on each paddock or the one you are planning to pasture improve. For grazing enterprises it is recommended that soil tests be undertaken every 3-5 years to assess the success of the recommendations and future requirements.

Do you think you will need to test multiple paddocks?

Charlie 

Last seen: 03/08/2018 - 21:05
Joined: 10/01/2011 - 10:46

Hi Greg,

I was in a similar position to yourself and had a lot of eucalypt regrowth in one paddock. I tried initially pushing them out with a tractor and blade. Most grew back as quickly as they had been pushed out. Second time around I spot sprayed them first with a mix of Roundup and Grazon. This killed them and then I pushed them out and they didn't regrow. You may want to consider doing it this way.

Hope this helps.

Mary.

Last seen: 03/08/2018 - 21:05
Joined: 09/23/2011 - 16:27

Hi Charlie

Thanks for the info.

I think I will need at 3 soil samples - 1 for river flats, 1 for south facing slopes, 1 for north facing slopes. For now I might just do 1 sample of river flats to get a feel for it.

cheers

Greg

Dear Katie

Many thanks for your suggestion about spot spraying. 

What I dont understand just yet is whether I need to spray or whether I can go into the ploughing stage without spraying.

cheers

Greg

Last seen: 03/08/2018 - 21:05
Joined: 10/20/2011 - 16:16

Hi Greg

Regarding if you need to spray or go straight in ploughing.

The need/reason to spray with a herbicide is determined by the need for weed control for the newly establishing 'crop' you're proposing for the cultivated ground. This new 'crop' could be new pasture, or a forage crop or whatever. The need for weed control is in the first instance to stop such weeds out-competing the newly establishing 'crop' for nutrient, space, water and sunlight. Hence with traditional ploughing techniques, where the soil is turned completely upside down, the aim is to bury the existing growth so causing it to 'die off' as it is buried away from the sunlight.

With more modern forms of cultivation that use chisel ploughs, where the soil profile is more or less maintained instead of being turned upside down, herbicides have been used to kill off the existing plant growth because these methods of cultivation do not bury the existing plant growth from the sun.

Depending on the existing plant growth and overall conditions, it may not be necessary to spray with herbicides or greatly limit their use. There are good reasons for this. Despite what our good friends at the chemical companies say, even supposedly harmless chemicals like glysophate (Roundup) can be hard on soil life.

In some situations, you can get sufficient weed control by spot spraying problem weeds in the weeks prior to cultivation, followed by severe grazing out of the area with stock, thereby weakening and minimising the ability of existing plants to recover and out-compete the newly establishing crop. Employing strategic seed bed preparation cultivations (after the deep cultivation has taken place) prior to sowing of the new crop will also dislodge and deter weeds from establishing. These methods can and are used but require time and experience to acquire and master, so, unless you're doing a full mould board type ploughing cultivation where all weeds are buried, then hard grazing out the paddock in question, letting it freshen a little then applying a fully translocating herbicide spray like glysophate might be the way to go, at least initially. Longer term, the non herbicide or limited use herbicide methodologies are well worth exploring, as there can be cost savings, and they're much, much more kinder on the soil biology. Regardless, don't hesitate to spot spray problem weeds in the first instance.

There is one herbicide I almost forgot to mention. That is, a thickly growing crop. What I'm saying here, is that a quickly growing, healthy crop will invariably outcompete weeds in establishment. To achieve this, the new crop needs plenty of reserves of nutrient to tap into. Even thought weeds have similar access, the preferred crop invariably gets the jump on growing and establishing. The message is therefore not to stint on incoporating lots of fertiliser and lime during cultivation and if necessary, encourage a newly establishing crop with strategic applications of nitrogen. The other big factor in eliminating weed competition is seed bed preparation. A light insufficiently consolidated fluffy seed bed encourage weeds whereas properly consolidated seed beds, where the crop seed is pressed firmly to the soil encourages the desired crop through better moisture contact and conservation. By properly consolidated, I mean as would be with the use of a 'cambridge roller'.

Hope these comments help - its the concepts that matter, not the recipes!

Roger

 

Last seen: 03/08/2018 - 21:05
Joined: 09/23/2011 - 16:27

Dear Roger

Many thanks once again. I am starting to get the picture and your structured answer is really helpful.

Sorry to answer you with another set of questions, but subject to the results of our soil analysis, I was thinking of doing the following in one small paddock:

1/ scarify the ground late spring - because I can get access to my friends tractor and scarifier

2/ leave ground fallow over summer but scarify again if needed and spot spray weeds (blackberry in particular)

3/ plant turnips in autumn so we have some winter feed.

Does that plan makes sense to you?

cheers

Greg

ps I wont keep asking too many questions

Last seen: 12/26/2018 - 09:21
Joined: 05/31/2011 - 09:44

Hi Greg,

I will jump in here.

The program you have outlined sounds fine. The only thing I would do differently is to spray the paddock out first with roundup before it is scarified. This will kill the existing grasses and if you allow 4-6 weeks between the spray and cultivation is will enable the existing plants to die and for the roots to break down. This will produce you a much better seed bed without the need for multiple cultivations. Make sure when you do cultivate that you have good soil moisture (not wet soil, just moist) as this will ensure that you minimise any cultivation impact on the soils structure. 

Turnips are good winter feed and are best suited to sheep. They are slow maturing (18 weeks plus) so you will need to sow them early to ensure they are ready for grazing in the winter. The best idea is to count back from when you think you will need the feed for an estimated sowing date.

Keep the sowing rate low (1-1.5kg/ha) as turnips require space if they are to produce large bulbs. You can mix the seed with fertiliser and broadcast it and follow up with a light harrowing or rolling. Ensure the seeds are sown to a depth of 10-20mm, any deeper and they will not come up.

There are both winter and summer turnips, so make sure you get a winter type. The York Globe is a popular winter turnip variety.

Let us all know the success of your program. If you have any other questions, it would be a good idea if we start a new post. 

Charlie

Last seen: 03/08/2018 - 21:05
Joined: 09/23/2011 - 16:27

Gidday Charlie

Many thanks. I'l get back to you when the job is done with a new post

cheers

Greg

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