Pastures a priority rain or shine
Landholders will need to consider some management issues for when it rains and new growth starts to spread across paddocks.
Animals that have been maintained on dry supplementary feeds when reintroduced to green pasture may experience digestive problems with a sudden change of diet. It can take two to three weeks for a ruminant's stomach bacteria to adjust to the green feed.
When reintroducing animals to green pastures, monitor them closely and initially introduce animals to pasture when their stomachs are full. Continuing to supplement their diet with hay can help with the transition from dry feed to green pasture.
Drought may have also changed the pasture composition in the paddocks. If phalaris or perennial ryegrass dominate paddocks, there is a risk of stock poisoning, so access may need to be restricted to prevent this from occurring. Be vigilant and check stock regularly, and be prepared to remove them if any look sick or die.
It is also important to monitor the germination of weeds after seasonal rains, because some species like Paterson's curse or ice plant can be toxic.
Weed control may be needed before giving animals access to affected paddocks.
In March to April, landholders will need to re-establish pastures after the dry season. This may involve re-sowing pasture; however, if there is a good seed bank in the soil then deferring grazing, applying the right fertiliser, and having good weed and insect control can encourage drought-affected pastures to spring back.
If your pastures were poor this year, plan a pasture improvement program. This involves selecting the right pasture species and varieties for your situation, getting good weed control, applying the right fertilisers, seeding at the correct depth and rates then controlling insects. (Pests like the red-legged earthmite can cause significant damage to establishing pastures.)
If you get all of this right, you can control grazing of the new pastures to be productive for years.
Landholders should have tested their soil in January or February to determine the right fertiliser program for autumn. Soil testing kits are available from your local agribusiness supplier, who can discuss the results with you and recommend a fertiliser strategy.
If your fertiliser requirements are small, you may want to band together with your neighbours to purchase fertiliser as a group to save on transport costs.
It is important not to allow grazing in paddocks before pastures are re-established.
Defer grazing in paddocks until pastures are at least five centimetres in height, with good cover of paddocks. If grazing on new pasture commences before the pasture has had a chance to establish strong root systems, then whole plants may be removed, therefore affecting the quality of your pasture.
It may be necessary to supplementary feed animals into winter and keep animals in confinement or sacrificial paddocks rather than be tempted to graze paddocks too early.
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