Farmers learn to spot native grasses

From the Stock Journal

ACCURATE identification  is the first step towards  improving native grass  populations in pastures, according  to native grass expert Millie  ‘Nicholls, Brinkworth. Ms Nicholls helped Barossa graziers  develop their identification  skills at a field day in Keyneton  last month, visiting properties  affected by the damaging Eden  Valley fires.  She said the field day was timed  to make it easy to spot the often  elusive native grass species.

“It’s easy to tell the native grasses in those areas from the  non-natives in that most of the  non-natives are annual grasses,  and Afost of the natives a re perennials,”  Ms Nicholls said.

“Most of the year, to the average  person, the native grasses  probably look fairly similar.

Now is the best time because grasses are out in head and easy to identify.

“Improving pastures is a matter  of farmers learning which native  grasses they’ve got – because  some grow in summer and some  grow in winter – and then monitoring  those plants and then giving  them the best chance to do  their thing and grow.”

The 26 graziers, stakeholders and natural resource officers  attending the field day visited two  local grazing properties.  Ms Nicholls was pleased to find  wallaby and spear grass s pecies  in good numbers.  “There was good grass diversity,  but the things that are missing  a re the herbs and the forbs – the  small native broadleaf plants,”  she said.

“In a good-quality native grassland  there’re lots of native broad-leaf plants as well as grasses, but  they’re mostly missing from those  areas. There’re some there but not a lot.”

Diversity in pastures meant  sheep and cattle could consume a  more complete diet, often resulting  in improved growth rates.

“The more diversity you have,  the better your animals will do,”  she said.

She said areas that had been  used solely for grazing purposes  were likely to have higher native  grass numbers.

“In any area that is non-arable,  you’ll nearly always find the  native grasses left there. If it’s  been ploughed at any stage, usually  it takes a long time to come  back,” Ms Nicholls said.

Overstocking or continual grazing  could negatively impact native  grass species, and rotational grazing  and periods of rest were considered essential.

“All the native grasses that you  find in this region are perennial·  grasses – they can’t be grazed  continually,” she said.

“They’ve got to have some rest  to allow them to regrow from their  root systems. It’s like luceme  management· – they should be  grazed, given time to grow arid  then grazed again.

“The practice 1n most regions  is to put animals in and leave  them there, often during the winter  when they’ve only got the  non-arable paddocks to put them  In, and then they’ll run them on stubbles over summer.

“Not a lot of people rotationally  graze. To really manage them  well, you’ve got to have lots of  paddocks, but not many people  have lots of paddocks any more.”  She said using temporary electric  fencing could assist with rotational  grazing where graziers only  had a few large paddocks, but this  was time-consuming to set up and  ensuring stock had water access  in all segregated areas could be  expensive.  Farmers were encouraged focus on giving native grasses the  best chance to flourish – an effort  that did not necessarily involve  extensive w~ed control programs.

“Weeds like Salvation Jane,  geranium, silver grass and barley  grass love bare ground so you’re  always going to get them,” Ms Nicholls said. ·

“You can’t get too tied up with  the fact you’ve got lots of weeds.  Sheep will eat those weeds, and  anything is better than bare ground.

“My advice is don’t go and  spray your weeds. Let your sheep  just eat them, but still monitor the plants that you want and don’t  worry about the weeds.

“Give the plants you want the  best chance to do their thing  and you’ll gradually get back to a  more native grass-filled pasture.”  She said planting imported  grass species such as phalaris in soils like those found in the  Keyneton hills was unlikely to  bring big benefits.