Matching the pasture with the production system

Pasture production plays one of the most important roles in any grazing production system. Pastures that complement our systems help to meet livestock production requirements through the season, spread the risk and ensure good NRM outcomes on farm.

Producers in the Barossa Valley and surrounding areas took the complementary approach through the 2012 growing season thanks to the Winter Pasture NRM Project. They were encouraged to develop individual projects to measure their own pasture production and then share their information with others through pasture walks, workshops and case studies in a monthly newsletter.

Participants gained an appreciation for the variety of pasture species available, how they tolerated the season and the importance of having them meet specific production targets for livestock needs through the year. The project, managed by the Angaston Ag Bureau and encompassing local producer groups, is funded by the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges NRM Board’s Sustainable Industry Grant Scheme with co-funding from Sheep Connect.

Annual grasses

Annual grasses, such as Annual Ryegrass, can boost pasture production through the winter and spring months. They can be over Summer active Lucerne encourages healthy soil and provides good pasture production through the summer. Photo: G Keynes. sowed into an existing pasture or sowed in a complete pasture renovation as a pure stand, to compete against weeds and allow grazing before a perennial pasture is established. These grasses are relatively cheap and have reasonably fast production benefits. Early varieties can provide winter feed through the colder months when many other pastures have reduced growth rates.

Annual grasses don’t grow through the summer months, thus grazing through this time must be prevented or managed carefully to ensure the groundcover does not decrease below 70%. Joe and Graham Keynes of Keyneton planted an Annual Ryegrass pasture to control weeds before establishing a perennial pasture. They used it as a weaning paddock and set stocked 800 first cross lambs at a DSE of 40/ha for 6 weeks. The lambs gained 60 g/day while giving the other perennial based paddocks on the property a break to recover.

Perennial grasses

Perennial grasses, commonly Phalaris, Cocksfoot and Perennial Ryegrass, are used extensively throughout the hills as they have good production, respond to a summer rain, persist for many years and encourage healthy soil. Many properties through the region have old varieties of perennial grasses that have persisted for many years and are often quite fragmented. Many could be improved by increasing soil health and rotational grazing.

Many producers are also establishing new varieties of perennial grass pastures. They may be costly but with good rotational grazing management they will be a productive pasture for many years. Vic Patrick of Eden Valley planted a perennial pasture of Phalaris, Fescue and subclovers. The Fescue variety was unpalatable to livestock and, with a low stocking rate, began to dominate in clumpy tussocks. Vic has now established new perennial pastures in some paddocks and may divide the paddocks into smaller areas to increase the stocking rate and grazing pressure on these tussocks.

Native grasses

Native grasses, particularly Kangaroo Grass, Wallaby Grass and Windmill Grass, exist in small patches throughout the hills. They can be used in much the same way as perennial grasses and are often very tough. Many are also summer active, providing feed through the summer.

At this stage their cost is prohibitive due to the expensive seed and establishment time for grazing. Vignerons, such as Dan Falkenberg in Nuriootpa, have established Wallaby Grass mid row. Wallaby Grass is winter active, and thus competes against mid row weeds, reducing the amount of spray, diesel and vehicle compaction, and improving the biodiversity of the vineyard.


Lucerne is a perennial plant which is generally summer active and provides feed through summer months. It responds very well to rotational grazing and has long roots that promote healthy soils and prevent soil erosion. Lucerne is sown in spring so needs spring and summer rain. Once established it is very persistent and recovers reasonably quickly from grazing.

Hans Graetz of Keyneton successfully established a stand of Lucerne after a wet spring and summer in 2010, to give his stud rams a green pick through summer. In the first year Hans measured an extra 7 kg growth in his rams over that period.