Barley Grass and other Pasture management

It has been a long Spring full of unfulfilled promises on the Rock Farm.  Weather forecasts predicting a 90 percent chance of 10 – 15mm of rain in three days time have withered to a 10 percent chance of 0 – 1mm.  Barely any rain has fallen, and the grass has been in a desperate race to set seed before it dries out completely.

The photo above captures the half dozen drops that fell a couple of weeks ago.  Whilst the sky looked promising, it failed to deliver.

Readers may remember that I had a paddock full of thistles when we moved to the Not-So-Rocky Rock Farm.  I slashed the thistles a couple of times over the summer, with the aim of preventing the thistles going to seed.  (https://rockfarming.com/2018/01/04/managing-thistles-on-the-new-farm/)  After slashing the paddock, the sheep moved in, and kept the grass down over winter – until about three weeks ago when the took it upon themselves to move out (The fences have never held the sheep anywhere – even this paddock which is mostly fenced with hingejoint).

The culprit was Barley Grass.  Barley Grass (Hordeum Leporinum) is a soft annual grass with bristly fox-tail like seed heads.  Once the seed heads form, it is unpalatable to sheep or cattle.  The seed heads get embedded in the sheep wool, reducing their capacity to put on weight.  Given the option to move out, our sheep had done exactly that.

On the flip side, the thistles were not so prevalent, which was pleasing to see.

With a desire to use a chemical free process to control the grass, I consulted the internet and found this guide published by HerbiGuide:   http://www.herbiguide.com.au/Descriptions/hg_Barley_Grass.htm

HerbiGuide recommended heavily grazing the paddock until the seed heads turned yellow.  I brought in the cattle,  and gave them a week to reduce the seed burden in the paddock.

It was also a good chance to check out some of the serrated tussock I sprayed a month earlier.  It seemed that the fluproponate was effective, which was a relief.

After a week of grazing, the cattle had reduced the barley grass a little, however the hot dry weather had started to turn the seed heads yellow.  In a last minute effort to reduce the grass seed being viable, I removed the cattle and took the mower down to the paddock and slashed the remaining stalks.  I am not sure if I have managed to cut the heads before the seed is viable, but it may allow the sheep to move back in and graze the stubble in the lead up to the end of the year.

I hope that grazing and slashing the paddock will significantly reduce the prevalence of barley grass over the next couple of years.  I will need to heavily graze the paddock in late winter and spring before the seed heads form. The cattle and sheep will form am integral part of this process, and it is exciting to be using the livestock as a tool to improve the pastures on the Rock Farm.

We are now at the end of the grass growing season.  Whilst is rain forecast this week, it will do little to increase our feed for the stock.  What it may do is replenish some water in our dam, which is looking very low.  We are investigating options for stock feed and agistment, and will update you soon on where we are at with this.

In the meantime, we will keep our fingers crossed.  At this time, we will take any rain we can get!

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