On-farm pasture diversity studies

Steve Broughton at the 2019 Organic Dairy Pasture Group Conference. Photo: Catherine Fry.

Huntly dairy farmer Steve Broughton farms the land that’s been in his family since 1909, milking 320 cows.

And the fourth-generation farmer is so passionate about pasture diversity that he often runs his own experiments on his 289ha.

Currently completing a course to become a dynamic educator, he willing shares his findings with his fellow farmers – and spoke about them at the recent Organic Dairy & Pastoral Group annual conference in March. Planting and establishing mixed pastures for 12 years, and reaping the benefits, he shared his success and failures in creating diverse pastures.

He told the conference he’s “not yet” certified organic, but practices pasture management to organic principles, and is hoping to gain certification in the future.

Steve describes his pastures as varied, and he works around the weather. “I over-sow the paddocks five days in front of the cows, using a multi-tine harrow, so the seeds get a fine cover of soil,” says Steve.

He uses two seed mixes that he’s made up himself, and are sown depending on the season.

Steve would normally use 10kg of seed per hectare, increasing this to 20kg, and even 30kg after a maize crop. This is to ensure there is good bulk feed available in early winter.

Paddocks are prepared for summer crops by roto-tilling the ground twice and rolling it. Planting can be as early as September, but the seed is matched to the ground temperature.

“The cows really love the pasture mixes we use,” says Steve.

Using break-feeding, grazing is holistic with 60 per cent eaten, 30 per cent trampled, and 10 pe rcent left standing.“ For regrowth goals, these are good statistics to have.”

“Even the trampled pasture means that in January and February there is still lots of moisture underneath, which works well.”

Steve’s also been trialling grazing round lengths, putting cows into a paddock and allowing them to graze to residual in 84, 63, 42 and 21-day plots.

“The 21-day plot was cleared out, with weeds getting in, and the soil starving.

“The 84-day plot wasn’t eaten down, the cows were hungry, but there were no weeds.”

This optimum number of days was somewhere in the middle, and is dependent on the seasonal conditions and the necessity to carry food.

Steve’s also been digging down into the clay soils of his farm, measuring the depth and width of root systems of different pasture plants.

“A healthy soil requires plants of varying root depth, each one contributing to the ecosystem of nutrients underneath the soil in ways that we may not have previously considered when planting our pastures.”

This ‘straight from the farmer’ based research provides valuable statistics to be used in conjunction with studies from scientific research facilities.


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