Gotta be quick to respond as Spring springs

Spring has pounced…at last and with a flourish!

Each week, I monitor the growth rate of our grass and by golly it’s shot away in seven days. This means we can offer the cows a larger slice of each paddock per day, knowing that we won’t run out of grass or punish the pastures. We treat our little ryegrass plants with TLC, you see.

To explain why, I’ll need to tell you a little bit about the ryegrass plant (only a speed-date style of introduction because I know you’re probably not as excited about watching grass grow as I am).

In most cases, rye grass only ever grows three leaves per plant before the oldest leaf dies off. It’s at its best when it has 2.5 to 3 leaves, which is also when it grows fastest because it has the most “solar panels” to generate sugar and sustain itself.

The grass draws on sugar reserves stored in its stem to produce the first leaf, the second is self-sufficient and the third offers about 50% more herbage than the first two combined.

If you let the cows chew the grass down too hard or bring them back when it’s just used up its sugar reserve to get the first leaf out, you do enormous damage to the plant. It may not recover and will certainly take a long time to get up and running again.

Because Australian milk is sold at such low prices, we have to be super efficient and that means grazing the pasture at its most productive rather than relying on lots of expensive grain. A DPI expert once told me that what farmers do in the 12 weeks of Spring dictates how profitable we are for the whole year, so I am extra vigilant at the moment.

With the warmer, drier weather of the last week, we’ve seen growth rates soar. Rather than taking about 14 days to emerge, the first leaf is out in seven or eight. I’ve asked Wayne to reduce the amount of grain we’re feeding the cows (just by half a kilo every four days so we don’t upset the bacteria in their finely tuned digestive systems) and I’ll ring the silage contractor tomorrow to give him the heads-up.

That same DPI guy also told me that it doesn’t cost anything to be on time but being late in farming could cost a year’s profit. I’d better get out there!

Toad rush is more fallout from the wet

Toad rush

Toad rush has overwhelmed this paddock, lending it a yellow hue

Some of our paddocks have been so saturated for so long that the newly sown perennial pastures have been overwhelmed by toad rush.

Toad Rush is a weed described by the RIRDC in this cheerful way:

“Toad rush tends to thrive where soils are waterlogged and poorly drained. Although toad rush is a small, shallow rooted plant, it germinates in extremely high numbers and the seed is viable in the soil for over 10 years. Toad rush can use over 30% of the available nitrogen in the topsoil and can substantially reduce crop yields.”

Not happy. I’ll have to wait until the paddocks firm up enough to spray it out and then look at these options:

  1. Resow with more perennial seed in spring and hope the summer is mild enough for it to establish itself (expensive and too risky)
  2. Sow a brassica crop like turnips or rape (sick of ravenous caterpillars)
  3. Sow a summer crop like sorghum or millet (poor quality feed/not reliable)
  4. Sow an Italian ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum)

Looks like the Italians are the way to go. A spring sowing should yield some silage and because it’s after the frosts are over, the grass should stay lush if there’s summer rain rather than bolting to head.

Watching grass grow really is exciting

We’ve been preparing for this for two years now. The house paddock has been limed to manage its acidity, soil tested, fertilised to balance the nutrients, treated with effluent and deep ripped to improve its water storage capacity. Since then, we’ve had it sprayed with a biodegradeable weed-killer, disced, sown with perennial ryegrass seed and rolled. It’s a big investment, which is why I’ve been patrolling the paddock almost constantly.

And look!

The house paddock on April 25

The house paddock on April 25

Here it was on April 13, just under a fortnight ago:

The house paddock on April 13

The house paddock on April 13

Now all we need to do is watch out for ravenous creepy crawlies and apply some nitrogen once it gets a little more established.

Gasp: the cows love fescue (and I do too)

Cows grazing Advance Tall Fescue

The cows really seem to prefer the Advance tall fescue over ryegrass

I’m beginning a clandestine (well maybe I’m coming out of the closet with this blog) love affair with fescue and cocksfoot. Our Gippsland dairy farm has always relied on a combination of ryegrass and clover, although prairie grass loves to volunteer. Because the weather patterns have changed so much, I’ve started to experiment with other pasture types.

We sowed the aptly-named swamp paddock with Advance tall fescue last year. It doesn’t mind waterlogging and produces massive volumes of feed in summer – just when the swamp paddock can withstand grazing without getting pugged. I’d had the paddock sown to an annual ryegrass which reshot and seemed to overwhelm it, so had the whole lot sprayed out with glyphosate. To my delight, the ryegrass was knocked out and the fescue has come back in force.

The cows seem to love Advance. I had them in the adjacent paddock of gorgeous perennial ryegrass but when I lifted the fence to let them into the rear of the still partially inundated swamp paddock, they rushed in and stayed there to eat the fescue.