- Herbs are not the silver bullet, just because it works here doesn’t mean it will work everywhere.
- Don’t bother on heavy clay soils – herbs don’t like wet feet and are susceptible to pugging.
- Need to crop first to allow necessary weed control.
- Plantain should be kept out of mix and sown later after spraying for weeds (expect less plantain as a result).
- Quality feed is grown for the first two years.
- Need to look after herbs in establishment like any new pasture.
- Be careful of winter damage – susceptible to pugging, as soil does not settle the same as perennial ryegrass paddocks.
- Perennial ryegrass that is established after herbs, grows well.
Gavin and Sally Roden are sharemilking for Reid Crawford Farms in Aka Aka district (west of Pukekohe towards Port Waikato). The farm consists of hilly, predominantly lighter soils, and mostly heavy clay or peat soils on the flats (peats are humped and hollowed).
Some areas are too steep to cultivate. Historically, the farm ran sheep and beef, and although converted to dairy some time ago, much of farm was still in dense brown-top pastures with large blocks and little subdivision when the Rodens arrived six years ago.
Rainfall is expected to be 1100-1200mm annually although several years have been considerably less than this. Based on excellent records of supplement use, the farm is harvesting around 9 to 12 tonnes of DM pasture, (back calculated from milk produced), depending on rainfall.
This is a system 4 farm using imported feed of 600t PKE and 100-130t DDG. The farm also uses around 75t DM pasture silage and 200t DM maize silage both homegrown.
Farm physical information (2016-2017)
Farm details for 16-17
190 ha (220 total)
kg per ha
Soil type (s)
Peak cows milked
Est. pasture & crop eaten/ha/year.
(t DM/eff. ha)
Cows per effective ha
6 week in-calf rate
N applied per ha/annum
Liveweight per cow
450 kg est
Planned start of calving
Farm goals and objectives
Pasture and feed management goals
To renew and improve paddocks dominated by brown-top (and kikuyu) through cropping and then herbs.
Animal performance goals
Improve milk solids production (135,000 kg MS in 13/14 to 210,000 in 2016/17 season)
Why a change was required?
The Rodens wanted to address the lack of rain in summer (increase summer feed), and increase the quality of feed on offer. They didn’t have ryegrass persistence issues as such, they just wanted to grow and harvest more, potentially higher quality feed.
Description of changes made
What are these changes?
Each year 12-15ha of maize and 6-9 ha of chicory was grown. For five years maize has been followed with a herb pasture mix (typically plantain, chicory and Lucerne – each at 4kg/ha, red clover 6kg/ha, and two varieties of white clover at 2kg/ha each).
To provide 20% crop with herbs fed at 3kg/cow at peak 20-day round. Plantain is used to fill the shoulder seasons, while chicory is used in summer. Gavin expected the herbs would last for five years with a plantain and clover paddock by the end, as chicory was seen to be a short-term part of the mix.
Why this mix?
January-March can be very dry, so deeper rooting plants (especially lucerne and chicory) were chosen. They wanted to reduce maize in the system and fill summer feed deficits, and remove brown top and kikuyu from pastures.
Gavin and Don Uruhart (the farm’s consultant) expected chicory to reduce in the pastures (which it has) and lucerne to reduce by half each year but expected plantain and clover to persist. Lucerne has reduced by more than this 50% per year and plantain has not persisted. In the latest sown herb paddocks, now 2.5 years old, they are struggling to see plantain, and there’s no sign any self-seeding has happened.
Herbs have only lasted 2-3 years with increasing amounts of ryegrass establishing voluntary in the herb paddocks (see photos 1 and 2).
However, Gavin feels he has not forgone any feed using herbs, and the quality of feed has been very high. They have produced as much as ryegrass pastures and have been able to use this as part of normal rotation.
Result: getting 2-3 years of high quality feed, but not the persistency expected
Farmers’ management of new pastures (herbs)
The Rodens have used herbs since year two on the farm, establishing in autumn after maize.
In 13/14 they also trialled grass to herbs in three paddocks (29, 30, 32). This was done through spray, discs, power harrow then drilled with an air drill plus roller. Initially they thought they had failed but although the proportion of herbs has deteriorated, volunteer grasses have re-established.
Lucerne winter dormant variety was used to try and increase longevity.
Chickweed was a major weed present in year one so 30g Preside spray was used (which was meant to leave the plantain undamaged) but ended up taking plantain out. Next time: established without plantain and sprayed for weeds. Plantain was broadcasted in June/July using a bike-mounted fertiliser spreader. The paddock was not rolled, and a perfect strike-rate was not achieved. Only suited to a warm climate region.
The herbs were grazed as a crop in the first year (break fed through summer) and then going into second winter, transitioned into ‘normal’ grazing rotation. Aim is for 28-day round (as compromise for all species in the herb mix).
The Rodens had great success establishing a chicory/plantain paddock on a hillside through flying the seed mix on (4 kg chicory, 6 kg plantain, 4.5 kg white clover and about 11kg Samson ryegrass). The paddock was intensively grazed for several months, (set-stocking with drys, empties) and then sprayed. The chicory mix was then flown on, then grazed by calves once established.