Regular assessment of farm pasture covers combined with the appropriate tool for the season (e.g. feed wedge, spring rotation planner or autumn planner) provides vital information for making feed decisions.
Accurate and timely pasture information can be used to better match pasture availability with herd demand, and identify surpluses and deficits. Accurately allocating pasture is vital in the peak growing season to achieve target residuals and avoid long lasting consequences over the season.
You can only manage what you measure, regular pasture assessment such as a weekly or fortnightly farm walk is important for pasture utilisation. A pasture assessment will help answer the following:
- How much pasture have I got today, how much will I have next week?
- How big is the surplus or deficit?
- How much pasture remained when the cows left the paddock?
There are several ways that pastures can be assessed and measured. Some of the common methods are calibrated eye assessment and manual measurement using the Rising Plate Meter (RPM), or an electronic meter or probe. Another approach is a sensor attached to a quad or ATV bike such as the C-Dax Pasture Meter (also known as the Rapid Pasture Meter).
The Rising Plate Meter and C-Dax Pasture Meter
This approximates pasture mass and puts hard numbers on the grazing management plan. They are designed to measure ryegrass and clover pastures and provide a point of reference when several people are making pasture decisions.
Calibrated eye or visual pasture assessment
This can be as good as any current tool, but requires practice and calibration. Calibration can be achieved through DairyNZ discussion groups, regular farm walks with a farm consultant or the farm team, or through occasional comparison with a tool like the rising plate meter.
Pasture condition score tool
The pasture condition score tool is a visual assessment guide which provides an alternative way to compare paddocks for renewal or maintenance such as fertiliser, under or oversowing. Many pastures have less than desired density of ryegrass and clover because of treading damage in winter, or insect and drought during the previous summers.
Assessing the damage in each paddock by ranking them one to five based on visual scores, can help establish a plan for each paddock.
Recording and decision support
Regular pasture assessment, which is well recorded (notebook, spreadsheet or in a suitable computer program) can provide valuable information not only for short term decision making but also for future management decisions.
Regular pasture data can provide:
- Annual farm growth rates
- Individual paddock growth rates
- Seasonal average pasture cover targets.
This information can be used to build a feed wedge, increase accuracy in feed budgeting and to assess paddocks for renewal or development.
The feed wedge and the Spring Rotation Planner are the most important tools for pasture management
- Use the Spring Rotation Planner from calving to balance date
- Use the feed wedge after balance date through to autumn.
There are a range of computer programs and software available through commercial suppliers aimed at helping make decisions from pasture data.
View programs and suppliers here
AgHub pasture management tools and P-Plus software
Irish Farm Computers Ltd
Feed wedge ready reckoner
Agricultural Software Limited
Land and Feed
Pasture Management software
Rotation (your grazing rotation planner)
Farm-Market Media Ltd
All programs offer a feed wedge; some products provide additional reporting tools. Examples of other functionality that may be included is below. AgriOne (www.onefarm.ac.nz) offers reviews.
- Farm mapping
- Pasture cover reports
- Feed budgets
- Feed wedge
- Fertiliser usage
- Rotation planner
- Pasture growth rates
- Daily planners
- Predicted/ forecasted growth rates
- Rotation length
- Mobile access
- Ability to import/export data