Deep Rooted Perennial Pastures

by Ron Master, Department of Agriculture and Food WA

Why Perennial Pastures make good sense

The reasons why landholders decide to establish perennial pastures is different for every person, however the benefits are clear, especially in the high rainfall areas of the state. There are both production and environmental benefits to be gained.

Production benefits include:

  • Out of season green feed
  • Increased carrying capacity due to having a more even distribution of feed.
  • Ability to increase productivity on problem country
  • Ability to turn out animals at target live weights all year round.

Environmental benefits include:

  • Reduced groundwater recharge by utilizing more water and therefore reducing water logging and salinity
  • Reduced loss of nutrients, both from leaching and erosion
  • Reduced wind and water erosion.

Establishing perennial pastures

When considering whether to plant perennials you need to consider a number of key points.

These will help you to determine both the species to use and the area needed as part of your long term planning. The points are:

  • What feed gaps do you have?
  • When do they occur and for how long?
  • Which species best suit this gap
  • Do you have under performing areas (waterlogged, eroded etc), if so plant these first (less opportunity cost)
  • If you are concerned with salinty, erosion etc consider how much you need to plant to impact on these issues.
  • Do you have the infrastructure (especially water) to make the best us of your perennials

There are other points to consider however these should get you thinking in the right direction.

Perennials pastures can be split into temperate and subtroptical grass species as well as perennial legumes and herbs.

Subtropical species (Rhodes grass, Kikuyu, Setaria) are planted in spring (no earlier then September) while temperate species (Tall Fescue, Phlaris, Lucerne) are usually planted in autumn.

Periods of activity vary between the subtpropical and temperates species with subtropicals being summer active. The temperate species can have both summer and winter activity depending on the species and variety.

Methods of establishment will depend on machinery available to the farmer but there are some principles that should be followed to insure effective establishment:

  • Generally plant no deeper then 10mm
  • Preferably use a disc machine with press wheels as this will provide better seed soil contact, if this is not possible use a machine that disturbs the soil as little as possible with press wheels.
  • Start preparing the paddock early, apply lime at least 6mths earlier and use strategic grazing to reduce rye grass seed set.
  • Adequate site preparation including chemical control of weeds (refer to next section)
  • Plant the right species in the right part of the landscape.
  • Do not graze the stand too early, allow the root system to establish or you might kill it.

Weed Control

Annual pasture and weed control is essential before sowing perennials. If this is not done, annual pasture plants will out compete perennial seedlings in establishment.

Experience has shown that it is best to kill annuals about 5 weeks prior to sowing. Starting the control of annuals earlier will allow time for a second kill of newly germinated plants. Early weed control will also build soil moisture levels.

If the paddock has been under an annual pasture for a long time then a tickle up after the first spray may need to be considered to promote the germination of annual pastures and weeds.

Wilson Inlet and Torbay
farmers getting advice
on suitable perennial
pastures for wet
paddocks.

- `Taking Stock on
Perennials' Field Day
An alternative to a double knock is to spray top the paddock the year before to remove as much rye grass annual grass weeds as possible. This has the added bonus of increasing the clover seed bed prior to establishing the perennials.

Once the perennials are established then having a good annual component (especially clover) is critical to having a highly production pasture and should be encouraged, but only after the perennials were well established. It is also recommended to spray for red mites as they can have a dramatic impact on establishment success.

There are many species of perennial pastures that suit various soil types, waterlogging, salinity levels and temperatures.

It is strongly recommended that you get some advice prior to establishment if you have not planted perennials before from agronomist or the Department of Agriculture and Food Albany.