Pasture species (and why you should care)
Pasture species are the building blocks on which your enterprise rests.
The mix of pasture species on your property affects how much feed is grown, when it’s available, and how many stock can be run. As a result, pasture species can clearly affect the bottom line so it’s important to understand what’s going on at ground level.
Unfortunately, pastures can be deceiving. There is almost always something present, filling the space and growing to some degree. Whatever this is, it can have the appearance of a pasture. Without knowing what’s desirable and undesirable, it can be easy to accept the status quo, to blame the weather for poor results and not see very real limitations to performance.
Not knowing your pasture species means you're taking a risk.
Missed opportunity is one of the bigger risks. Desirable species offer higher production, greater resilience, and more reliability across seasons than undesirable species. Undesirable species may also have features that cause specific problems such as product contamination, animal health issues, reduced palatability and feed utilisation, deeper feed gaps and increased erosion risks.
Desirable vs undesirable species
Desirable species like cocksfoot and phalaris are bred to produce and are particularly useful in dry environments. They’re perennial, can withstand drought, and tolerate insect pest pressures better than many species.
On the other hand, silver grass is a brutally invasive annual plant that can take space away from other more valuable species like clovers. It’s undesirable due to its limited grazing value. It’s relatively unproductive, has low feed quality due to a low ratio of leaf to stem, and is less palatable as a result. Very often it’s there because we gave it an opportunity to get established and take over.
Understanding your species
Knowing your pasture species is an important step in getting the most out of any pasture, in any condition, at any point. This knowledge is particularly useful in understanding how management and environment is affecting the pasture base. Pasture species tell us plenty of stories about what’s working and what’s not. They can tell us that we need to investigate further and see what can be improved.
Understanding what species are present is essential in considering when to re-sow, and when not to. Or in deciding if and how the species mix can be improved with grazing or nutrient management.
It’s a bit of a balancing act, but understanding your species is a great start to improving your pasture resource and the bottom line it generates.
Some examples of desirable and undesirable pasture species
‘Knowing your species’ doesn’t mean you have to be a botanist. Learning to identify a few important weedy grasses and a few sown grass and clover species is really great start.
Common desirable grass species
Common desirable sown legumes
A picture in your mind and a few supporting features are all you need to quickly identify these species, opening a door to finding opportunities for improvement and minimising threats to your pasture.
The glove-box guide to grass and legume identification in Tasmanian pastures
Common grasses of Tasmania
Species for profit, a guide for Tasmanian pastures and field crops