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Grass & pasture care

We often see pasture that is self-regulating or neglected and therefore is an underused resource. So often animal health or forage quality is only managed from the nutrition end, managing the cow at feeding, leaving forage to become an ignored resource. How wrong can this be. Grassland should be the first and most important area to manage, not the last. Grassland is a vital asset for meat/milk production, so it is worth looking after and worth looking after properly especially as our weather patterns do seem to be changing. Growing Urea-fuelled blue grass that contains no calories or toxic high Potassium filled forage is making forage toxic rather than a valuable feed. Well grown grass is a major part of the food diet for your animals. It may sound strange, but grass is a cereal and should be treated as such and not ignored just because it is green.

Don’t guess – get it sampled!

There is no doubt that healthy high calorie grass produces healthy animals that produce meat, milk or lambs depending upon your needs.

Poor grass = poor animals!

Also, look at what species that you have in the pasture and decide if the mix is right and the health of the plants is right. It has been proved time and time again that newly seeded pasture produces far more than an old, tired piece of grass that has run out of steam. The mix should be grasses, herbs and legumes which will build a healthy soil and a healthy animal. If you plant grasses and legumes, avoid nitrogen as this will cause the grasses to grow but will stop the legumes if it is out of balance.

For simple areas, such as flood plains, a soil test after the event will give you an idea what nutrients the river leaves behind and we can consider balancing any excesses. Like any cereal crop the grass needs a plentiful supply of Phosphorous in the spring aided by available Calcium. Calcium as lime should be used on a relatively regular basis on grass as this is the building blocks of the crop. Unlike arable land, we generally don’t mind the lorries driving over the fields, so often Calcium (as Calcium Carbonate) can be spread out in the autumn On flood plains, calcium will have to be applied in a finer form in the spring otherwise you will be paying for your neighbour’s fields to get the Calcium. Make sure the ground is always covered, as uncovered ground is the first step towards poor pasture and dying grass. Spread cow pats around as animals are moved so that the re-cycled nutrients are spread evenly.

  1. When you take animals from the field you will either spread the muck around, feed the grass or prepare it for a wet period. It doesn’t matter which it is, you will want to spray the land with a Humate such as AF Nurture N (Fulvic acid) in season or AF Humique (Humic acid) in the autumn. The Humates will sequester Nitrogen to stop it leaching and it will complex with available phosphorous keeping it available to the grass. AF Nurture N will help make the nutrients more available to the plant whilst getting at least 30% more nutrients into the plant than would happen if it were not there which enables us to get more from applying less (this applies to all crops). A Humate (carbon source) should always be applied with any Nitrogen or Phosphorous application.

Sometimes weeds can actually make a pasture better as the weeds contain minerals that the grass does not, Plantain being a case in point, but you still have to take notice what is growing. Tap rooted weeds generally show that there is a Calcium issue caused by a pan. It is always a shame to see whole areas of fields made no go zones by nettles or docks which shade grasses out of existence making the field a waste of your time.

  1. When spring arrives make sure that the grass has a plentiful supply of micro nutrients before getting the Nitrogen on otherwise you will just lock up certain nutrients such as Potassium and Copper leaving less healthy growth and a possibility of disease. Look at economics to see what nutrients can be sprayed on at this time. We use a Phosphorous and multi-micronutrient package to get things underway, so we get a dense, productive sward.

It may be time to consider strip grazing as we are seeing superb results from this, certainly in the States.

We can look at a variety of granular or liquid products that could vastly increase the productivity of your grass. Nitrogen will be applied sparingly with a Humate so that we get the most from as little as possible. Liming is important depending on where you farm. We can add certain fertilisers that contain Selenium, Cobalt and Copper all aimed at the health of your cattle so they need no/less supplements from your nutritionist (please see AF Nugrass and AF Rally).

This trial costing £12 per hectare increased first cut silage by over double and tripled brix (soluble carbohydrate) levels. Background is treated area. This shows the astonishing potential that can be achieved when limitations are managed.

Trial Suggestion: To get you started here is a little test for you. When you have some AF Nurture N on farm make up a small tank at 3lts/ha or pro rata and spray onto sections of grass and see the difference. I have had farmers spray words onto grass that remain there for weeks due to the increased activity of soil life and it is the microbes that make nutrients available.

Grass in Rotation

I tend to treat this as I would any cereal crop.

  1. Use 1l/ha AF Nurture N with the glyphosate pre-seeding.
  2. Pre dress soil with a Calcifert/Keiserite/Polysulphate type product depending on your soil type.
  3. For those with a liquid applicator use a seed drench containing Phosphorous and Silicon. If disease resistance is a concern add AF Consortium as a bacterial package.
  4. At 3rd leaf (pre Christmas), apply a foliar containing  AF Nurture N, AF ManganeseAF Phosphorous and  AF Pulsar or  AF Rally (micro nutrient packages).
  5. First pass after winter this can be repeated to get roots growing and tillers forming.

We have recently created a new, low input, grassland specific, trace element package that you can use instead of  AF Pulsar which include both Selenium & Iodine. Whilst  AF Pulsar is proving to be very useful on grass, it is missing these essential animal health elements which are often the most deficient.  AF Rally will be used in general pre/post grazing, for silage cutting but especially before seed growth as a way to get all the animal health specific nutrients available in the forage direct for stock health whilst also trickle feeding these nutrients for both plant and soil use.

There is no doubt that building Humic and Fulvic acid (Humates) levels in the soil via  AF Nurture N works very well as does extra carbon as AF Nurture 60. Both should increase brix/energy levels in the grass. This can be allied to a reduction in Nitrogen use which lowers brix. The question can arise on whether you need Humic acid or Fulvic acid and the easy answer is both. The Humic fraction buffers the cations and complexes with the anions holding them in the root zone decreasing leaching and soil lock up. The Fulvic fraction picks up the nutrients and very efficiently takes them into the plant. Where possible use products that have both of the Humates present to get the best results. I tend to use more Humic acids in the autumn as this will help the plants keep the nutrients available over the wetter winter months. Proper Humate application can also aid soil life to proliferate which also helps the efficient uptake of nutrients plus the grass tends to be of higher quality. Using Humates correctly can also be very useful when microbial packages are being applied whether brewed or not. In many parts of the world applications of Mycorrhiza onto grassland has greatly increased the feed potential of the grass leading to much reduced applications of nutrients, especially Nitrogen.

Adding a Humate with a product such as AF Nugrass or AF Rally two weeks before grazing or silage can greatly increase the quality of the grass for the animals.

For those growing seed crops I would suggest you look at replacing the Nitrate Nitrogen with Amide Nitrogen which does seem to have the effect of increasing the size and quality of the seed.

Every nutrient has a microbe behind it!