Seasons change and after a blast from summer, a breeze from autumn and a chill during winter; it's time to welcome abundance, thanks to the spring flush of pasture growth. But don't take the abundance spring brings for granted as this season is very critical. You must focus on proper management practices that will ensure that you maximise spring's high pasture productivity. After all, this focus will affect grass growth for the rest of the year. Let's keep this as a priority, as, how you manage your grazings during spring is crucial for year-round profit.

In this blog, we will discuss:

1. What spring means to your pasture growth

2. What is Perennial Ryegrass

3. Uses of Ryegrass

4. Strengths and Weaknesses of Ryegrass Management

5. Ryegrass Care and Management

Ryegrass

What spring means to pasture growth

Abundance does not always come as planned during spring. In fact, pasture growth or grazing gets out of control the most in this season. Supplies of pasture forage are at its peak in spring. This season sometimes influences us to relax more than necessary and give little attention to management practices of spring forage. This loss of focus leaves us to spend time, money, and effort on cleaning up the pasture sward deep into summer and dealing with the flow-on effects.

Farmers such as yourself, usually stock up their grass-based pasture system in the summer to compensate for the lower production of cool-season effects on the grass. This growing season is why in spring; most pasture systems are under-stocked. Benefits arise with the abundance of forage. Allowing your animals to be selective with their consumption does not guarantee that you'll control and use all of your feed. Thus, having a management plan for the abundance of forage is still crucial to maximising the quantity and quality of the spring flush.

What is Ryegrass

Ryegrasses are high-quality forage that also provides high-quality grazing for your livestock. Although ryegrass is a handy forage for grazing, ryegrass does not attribute its short lifespan to the lack of light energy removed by grazing or harvesting. Despite grazing, it already has a limited life span. Each tiller can only support three leaves at a maximum. Each leaf grows in each tiller one at a time, one after the other. When one leaf appears, the first leaf stops growing. And when the third one sprouts, the second leaf, just like the first leaf, stops growing as well. This lifecycle is why ryegrasses are known as "three-leaf plants."

Uses of Ryegrass

Considered the best cool-season perennial pasture grass as it's both valuable and can grow rapidly. It can slowly break up hard soils for better absorption of nitrogen through its roots. For pasture purposes, ryegrasses have many benefits.

First, it can be very abundant. Why? Not only is it rapidly growing, but it also has a long growing season with a propensity for high yields. Secondly, ryegrass is highly nutritious as well as highly digestible for your livestock. Third, despite being used for grazing, ryegrass can tolerate and, when damaged, can recover quickly from grazing. Ryegrass is conserved as hay and silage, especially during times of high growth during spring.

But ryegrasses are not only very useful and beneficial to our farms. They're also valuable for us as we use it for home lawns. For some who are into golf or football, you can also observe ryegrasses used for decoration or to complete the look of a golf course or a football field. The reason being it can reproduce and proliferate so that it can maintain a particular volume and thickness in appearance. Think about food for livestock and decorations for humans in one.

Sheep grazing ryegrass

Aside from these uses, ryegrasses are resilient and not easily affected by high traffic. It is said to have the highest wear tolerance among cool-season grasses. This strength makes ryegrasses an excellent ornament for schools and public parks, where traffic is very high and not to mention the resilience of pugging and hoof traffic from our livestock.

Ryegrass tolerance to hoof traffic

Strengths and Weaknesses of Ryegrass

Strengths:

Grazing-perfect

Ryegrasses are perfect for grazing as its high nutritional values survive through delayed grazing and other forms of temporary shifts in grazing practices. When you put ryegrass under proper and well-planned grazing management, ryegrass thrives.

High-quality silage

Aside from being perfect for grazing, ryegrass has a secondary use as high-quality silage. In short, there is no surplus for ryegrass as excess is utilised when conserved, and this is true when you manage pasture for quality and quantity. After all, you can't grow quality without quantity and vice versa.

High-nutritional value

As stated above, in one of its uses, ryegrasses are highly-nutritional food and a great source of energy for your livestock. It has at least 11 megajoules of estimated ME per kilogram of DM. These energy levels can reach heights of approx. 12.5 MJ/KgDM. Also, ryegrass crude protein levels seldom go below 18-20%, except with unfavourable conditions such as water stress. Well-Managed pasture is often above 23% crude protein, which is usually more than your animals can utilise. Compared to most temperate pasture species, ryegrasses have higher and better nutritional value.

All-year-round growth

Most times of the year, ryegrass can grow as long as there is sufficient soil moisture. Even during the autumn break of when summer rains transpire in the warm season, ryegrasses will respond to and grow based on the soil moisture, not the season, as soon as it can.

Low cost of production

Ryegrass can be grown in the right environment at a significantly low cost of production and can grow rapidly and easily, even without much intervention. As long as moisture allows, ryegrass grows and thrives.

Vitality of seedling

Ryegrass seedling's vitality makes it easy and rapid to grow.

Less-prone to diseases

Ryegrasses are prone to a few diseases that can lower their productivity or longevity. Most notably, they can be prone to fungal rust, also called crown rust. These types of infections do not affect their survival or germination, just their performance.

Few pests

Few pests post a threat to ryegrass. Common pests are the red-headed cockchafer, corbies, red-legged earth mite, and lucerne flea. All of which, may undermine ryegrass performance, reduce their density, or affect the growth rate. However, pests cannot destroy or kill the pasture sward with your due diligence.

Manageable animal health issues

Animal health issues may trigger from factors including soil fertility and fertiliser programs and by spores and endophytes on ryegrass. However, these issues are manageable and do not affect animals long term if you diligently monitor for such problems.

Weaknesses:

Limited access to moisture at depth

Because of its shallow roots, with most of its total root mass only at 10cm or even shorter, ryegrasses cannot access moisture at depth in the soil like plants such as Lucerne can. This lack of depth is especially true in drier months when soil moisture located at depth is mitigated only by irrigation. Because of its shallow roots, ryegrass rarely persists through dry environments.

Growth rates decrease beyond the temperature ceiling.

Ryegrass growth is affected by temperature, particularly by temperature lower than 5 to 10 degrees Celcius. Once it hits its low a temperature ceiling, ryegrass' growth rate declines dramatically. Once air temperatures reach 25 degrees Celcius and above, ryegrass reaches a point of heat stress, where wilting of the stand and a reduction of growth rates are evident. These upper and lower temperatures can cause the plant to be dormant and eventually die.

Lesser in summer

Hot and dry summers are not the season for ryegrass. The reasoning is due to the incapacity to access moisture at depth, as well as a low-temperature ceiling. During summer, ryegrass cannot provide for quality feed as much as it can during other seasons. Irrigation can be used to maintain optimum soil moisture for mitigating the summer woes for ryegrass.

The growth rate in winter is low.

Ryegrass thrives limitedly during winter because of the low temperature and limited sunlight. However, ryegrass that has grown through winter is observed to be of excellent quality. This quality is due to its production that has improved significantly through the management of grazing rotations, use of nitrogen, post-grazing residuals, and utilising winter-active cultivars.

Ryegrass Care and Management

Now that you know the strengths and weaknesses of ryegrass, how do you manage and care for this valuable forage?

Here are some very noteworthy tips for ryegrass management:

Children playing soccer on a ryegrass pitch

1. Graze between 2nd and 3rd leaf stage.

Based on previous observations, grazing before the 2nd leaf stage limits ryegrass regrowth and plant survival as sugars deplete that are required to grow its first leaf. Meanwhile, grazing after the 3rd leaf stage reduces its nutritional value with lower ME, lower CP, and higher fibre.

2. Time your grazing.

Grazing pastures too often reduces its total root mass and prevents it from developing a healthy root growth. Having a lower root mass makes the ryegrass easier to pull by your animals, more susceptible to very cold or scorching conditions, and more vulnerable to pests that damage roots.

3. Fertilise ryegrass and maintain a constant cover of green leaf area all year.

Use 200 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare per year during ryegrass' spring flush of pasture growth. The pasture growth months are usually between March to June and September to November. If water is accessible, irrigate during the summer months to increase both the summer and autumn growth and do so to a soil depth of 15 to 30 centimetres.

As you can see, there is a lot to take away with managing the spring growth of your ryegrass dominated pastures. By grasping the crucial management aspects of ryegrass pasture and grazing management, you are setting yourself up for a successful career in farming.

I reply to every comment and would love to hear your experiences with ryegrass in the comments below.

Happy farming!

- Ollie Roberts, 21 Aug 2019