Pasture programme makes worst paddocks the best at Owl Farm

Ultimately, Tom Buckley hopes for more productive and more persistent pastures  as a result of Owl Farm's pasture ...
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Ultimately, Tom Buckley hopes for more productive and more persistent pastures as a result of Owl Farm's pasture improvement programme, manager Tom Buckley says.

OPINION: Two years ago, Owl Farm was set up to demonstrate proven methods within the dairy industry.

In conjunction with PGG Wrightson Seeds, we now carry out biannual pasture condition scoring (PCS) developed by the Pasture Renewal Charitable Trust, with assessments carried out in August for tracking new and under-sown paddocks and February for more minor adjustments to quality.

This offers a way of systematically ranking all paddocks on the farm in terms of persistence, weed burden and pest damage.

The farm has been split into seven blocks based on soil types, in which Balance AgriNutrients carry out yearly soil testing and offer recommendations on possible improvements.

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Analysis is then done to compare all data collected from pasture rides, PCS, soil testing and grazing frequency records so we can rank performance of all paddocks on the farm.

Why do we do it? Historically at Owl Farm there has been a traditional spray out followed immediately by new pasture and no break crops, which has led to poor pasture persistence and low ranked pastures.

The programmed approach we now use gives us an opportunity to break both weed and pasture pest cycles. It is also an opportunity to remove wild endophyte from the sward, and encourage forward planning before the cropping program. The aim of this process is to end up with more productive and more persistent pastures.

Paddocks are ranked from one to five, with one the worst and five the best during the condition scoring. From this we can decide which paddocks are the most suitable for cropping and undersowing.

The undersowing is used to delay the need to crop or regrass in the immediate term, however as we progress with the regrassing program this process can be reduced. The aim to regrass at least 10 per cent of the farm annually.

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Once the crop paddocks have been selected, they are sprayed with glyphosate in mid-late March and drilled with Winter Star II treated seed (SuperStrike) with 200kg per hectare of DAP and 10kg/ha of slug bait.

The establishment is monitored weekly for weeds, and post first grazing a broadleaf weed spray is applied to kill any weeds which would be present over the winter and create a burden the following year. The removal of the clover during this process breaks the clover root weevil cycle also.

The use of the annual break crop allows the worst paddock to become the best paddock during the winter months, resulting in increased productivity during lower growth months, putting less pressure on other pastures and the feed budget. 

The aim is to graze four to five times over the winter months and take a cut of silage pre-cropping in October. It is important that while grazing annuals during the winter months that nitrate levels are monitored.

Mid to late September, the annual pastures are sprayed out with glyphosate and an insecticide, and then direct drilled with chicory. Then after four to six weeks post establishment, a broadleaf and grass weed herbicide is applied.

We aim for four to five grazings for the chicory crop starting once the plants are at the seven leaf stage. This year we did plant three weeks later than planned due to weather, but we are on target to get four grazings.

So far, we have harvested 8.2 tonnes of dry matter (DM) per hectare after three grazings.

Using a crop allows us to supplement grass in the diet and puts less pressure on pastures during low growth periods of the summer.

It also offers the cows a high quality, high protein, and highly digestible feed, aiding summer milk production, while also improving new pastures with better persistence and performance.

Owl Farm's goal is to have persistent and clean pastures which are capable of growing 16tDM/ha year on year, and with the support PGGW seeds we hope to achieve this.

  • Tom Buckley is the farm manager at Owl Farm.

 - Stuff

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