For Steve and Dan the strategy adopted over the past 6 years has been to change 50-60% of the farm area into tall fescue pastures using a 2-year cropping programme. A secondary aim has been to have the cropping area yield 25t DM/ha in each year of cropping. Here they share their experience.
- If trying tall fescue be selective on your paddocks and plant more than one paddock. At first choose better paddocks, good fertility and good yields.
- Plan appropriate stocking rate to keep tall fescue under control in spring.
- Tall fescue is easy to overgraze or pug in winter. Cows level it (they will graze lower than perennial ryegrass if allowed) – monitor and use stand-off if necessary.
- Use a platemeter and measure the same as ryegrass.
- Use a specialist’s (agronomist) advice to ensure it establishes well.
Summary from the farmers
- “With the current cropping and tall fescue system, we believe we can feed our cows better, for longer”
- “So far, the DairyBase figures show we are still at similar profitability levels as before, but we are no longer reliant on ryegrass.
- Family owned farm with two generations now involved in current management.
- Two farms (one with a farm manager) with some sharing of feed and cows between farms – still in development stage of combining two farms into a single farm with one of these now moving into autumn calving.
- Spring calving herd (July 1 for heifers and July 5 for cows). The home farm is transitioning to an autumn calving farm.
- Early calvers are milked on home farm until July 15 (winter premium), mid-April cows that are still milking go to the home farm.
- Aiming for an 8-week (56-day) dry period.
- In-shed feeding from calving to summer – PKE mixed with DDG, tapioca and grain (1t per cow)
- Feed pad used from calving until October, then again from March.
- Mating 12 AB, 8 weeks premier sires, 2-3 weeks short gestation replacements, 2 weeks short gestation Hereford.
- Imported supplements (mainly maize and PKE) are estimated to be 7.5 tonnes DM/ha, or 28% of the total feed supply, making this a system 4 farm.
Farm physical information: (2016-2017) for one farm
Farm details for 16-17
kg per ha
Soil type (s)
Hamilton Clay Loam & Kereone Silt Loam
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
140 kg N/ha
Liveweight per cow
Planned start of calving
Farm goals and objectives
- To lift output by 30% in 3 years
- The aim is to move to a system 2, and to be more self-sufficient with home grown feed (no PKE!).
Pasture and feed management goals
- To lift pasture and crop grown to 25t DM/ha/yr inside 3 years, from current level of 19-20t DM/ha/yr.
- The aim is to move from a system 5 to a system 2, and be more self-sufficient for home grown feed (No PKE!)
- Potential is there to flatten feed supply curve to a more even supply of feed each month. Remove feed supply peaks and troughs.
Animal performance goals
- To improve growth of young stock
- A key focus is to look after people employed on the farm. Several employees have been helped into their own businesses
Summary of the previous methods used to address ryegrass persistence
- Six years ago, it was mainly a ryegrass farm, undertaking pasture renewal to fix grass grub damage and for chicory crop.
- Pastures consisted of old ryegrasses that didn’t perform, particularly after growing maize crops. Any re-grassing after maize crops was a struggle for the new grass species regardless of species (ryegrass or tall fescue) – possible issues; destabilise soil structure, remove nutrients, and disrupt the natural cycle for insects in favour of pest species.
Why a change was required?
- Drought and ryegrass persistence were an issue.
- Question was asked: why rely on ryegrass? What are the alternatives? Used farming friends and contacts, including Agricom, to tackle this – the technical advice and farmer experience was key in the change process.
- Tall fescue was an option because it is more tolerant of grass grub, suits N, proGibb the farm wants to use, and fast rotations.
- Steve and Dan also interested in the potential of forage crops to add over 25tonnesDM/ha/year if placed in the correct crop rotation as part of the pasture renewal process.
Description of changes made
What are these changes?
- Introducing tall fescue: started by targeting the best performing paddocks (in the first year) in terms of soil fertility and DM yield ‘to give tall fescue the best chance.’
- Decided not to grow maize on-farm as part of renewal process.
- Pastures are targeted for renewal ‘one year out’. Identified as poor performers based on the feed wedge (yield), and eye assessment throughout the year and are under sown with an annual, ready to transition through to tall fescue.
- Or paddocks are targeted two years out as poor performers and the process is started by tidying up weeds/ sowing annuals followed by fodder beet.
- Now 16ha in crop each season 50% fodder beet, 50% “other” crops (other: annual ryegrass, oats, sorghum, rape, turnips). A two-year cropping cycle.
- Crop rotation: pasture to annual ryegrass to fodder beet to rape/or oats to turnips/sorghum to new pasture (tall fescue).
Time when this change started?
Timeline (from choosing a paddock for re-grassing to when it is first grazed as a renewed pasture)
Winter year 0
Spring year 0
Spring year 1
Late summer autumn Year 2
By end of May year 2
Description of task
Poor performing paddocks
Spray/ drill annual ryegrass crop
Cultivate & Sow fodder beet crop
Feed fodder beet crop
Spray/drill rape crop if fodder beet is grazed early or spray/drill winter oats crop if fodder beet is grazed later.
Graze rape or Oats. Spray/drill turnip crop if early. Sorghum crop if late (Dec)
Tall fescue pasture.
Seeding rate ? clover mix?
Graze new pasture