Prof C S Dannhauser
WHY PLANTED PASTURES?
It is a well-known fact that veld is the cheapest source of roughage for livestock. However in some areas problems exist that reduce the productivity and availability of veld in such a way that animal production is low. Some of these problems can be summarized as follows:
- The growing human population (a worldwide problem)
- The constant degradation of the veld due to over grazing (too many animals)
- The presence of old non-productive crop lands on marginal soil
- Lack of roughage during winter due to summer rainfall.
- Low and erratic rainfall
Cultivated pastures can be utilized in the following ways to help with the mentioned problems:
- Green pasture
All cultivated pastures can be utilized as green fodder during their active growing phase.
- Standing hay
Standing hay means, in short, that a grass was allowed to grow out during the last part of its growing season and then utilized in a dry stage during winter. The best examples are Smuts finger-, Bottle brush-, White buffalo- and Rhodes grass. Graze early summer (from November), take animals then out in January and leave to grow out from February to April/May and graze it from June onwards as standing hay.
Conserved hay, made during the summer, is one of the better known method of feeding animals during the winter months. The more leafy species are recommended and the following are good examples: Weeping love-, Blue buffalo grass, Teff and Lucerne.
Maize is the most popular crop used to make good quality silage. Equally good silage can be made from the tall growing pastures grasses such as Pearl Millet and the Fodder sorghums
SUMMER GROWING GRASSES
These grasses originated in the warmer regions of the world and therefore grow primarily under warmer, summer conditions. They will grow actively in the summer and will be dormant (not growing) in the winter. Consequently, they fit into the fodder flow program in the summer months. Later it will be shown that some could be utilized during the winter as standing hay (described earlier).
Most grass species in South Africa fall into this group. It is a large group, with many different grass species (types), which can be used as planted pastures, for example:
- Annual grass vs. perennial grasses
- Drought resistance vs. drought sensitive types
- Frost resistance vs. frost sensitive types
- Palatable vs. unpalatable grasses
The best known examples of perennial, summer growing grasses are:
- Smuts finger grass,
- White buffalo grass,
- Rhodes grass,
- Weeping love grass,
- Blue buffalo grass,
- Bottle brush grass.
More information on these grasses are shown in Table 1 and in later discussions.
MORE DETAIL ON PERENNIAL SUMMER GRASSES
All the perennial summer grasses should be planted during October to December or in February
Smuts finger grass (Digitaria eriantha)
Popular in medium to high rainfall areas and adapted to a wide range of soil types. Use for green gazing, hay and standing hay (see management of standing hay on page 1). They need medium fertilization levels.
Seeding rate: 3 – 4 kg/ha (rows, dry areas)
6 kg/ha (low rainfall) – 8 kg/ha (high rainfall) if broadcast.
Hay production: 6 – 12 t/ha Grazing capacity: 0.5 – 2.0 MLU/ha
1 MLU = 1 Ox or cow or bull weighing 450 kg in a good condition
Rhodes grass (Chloris gayana)
Very popular in medium to high rainfall (500+ mm) areas (all over South Africa) and adapted to a wide range of soil types, including saline (salty) soils. It establishes very easy, and is good for erosion control. The lifespan of Rhodes is shortened by severe grazing. It can be used for green gazing, hay and standing hay and require medium fertilization. Some farmers plant it in a mixture with Smuts finger grass.
Seeding rate: 3 – 6 kg/ha (in rows, dry areas)
6 – 8 kg/ha (broadcasting, high rainfall).
Mixture: Rhodes 2 – 4 kg/ha + Smuts finger 4 kg/ha
Hay production: 4 – 12 t/ha Grazing capacity: 0.5 – 2.0 MLU/ha
Weeping love grass (Eragrostis curvula)
Very popular in the cool, Highveld areas of South Africa (especially in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Free State and KZN), with a medium to high rainfall (600+ mm) and it is adapted to a wide range of soil types. It can be used for green gazing and hay production. It has a medium to high fertilization requirement and becomes less palatable if not fertilized correctly. It can be planted in a mixture with annual Teff, for cutting hay in the first year.
3 – 4 kg/ha (in rows dry areas) 6 – 8 kg/ha (broadcasting, med/high rainfall).
3 kg/ha E. curvula + 5 kg teff for quick establishment
Hay production: 6 – 13 t/ha Grazing capacity: 1.0 – 2.5 MLU/ha
White buffalo grass (Panicum maximum)
For the medium to high rainfall areas (500+ mm), best adapted to more fertile soils, not sandy leached soils. It is sensitive to severe frost, and adapted to areas with light frost in Limpopo, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, KZN, Free State and North West. It can be used for green gazing, hay and foggage. It needs medium to high fertilization for best production.
3 – 5 kg/ha (in rows, dry areas)
6 kg/ha (broadcast, low rainfall) – 8 kg/ha (high rainfall).
Hay production: 6 – 12 t/ha Grazing capacity: 1.0 – 2.5 MLU/ha
Blue buffalo grass (Cenchrus ciliaris)
A drought resistant grass, for 300 – 600 mm rainfall areas. Ideal on medium fertile and clay soils and in a warm climate. It is well adapted in the Limpopo Province and the warmer parts of North West and Mpumalanga. Good for green grazing and hay production. It needs medium levels of fertilization, but a high Phosphorus (P) requirement. Seedlings need high soil Phosphorus (15 mg/kg) to survive. Cultivars: Molopo for hay making and grazing and Gayndah only for grazing.
Seeding rate: 2 – 4 kg/ha (dry areas) 4 – 8 kg/ha (medium to high rainfall). Hay production: 4 – 6 (12) t/ha Grazing capacity: 0.5 – 2.0 MLU/ha
Bottle brush grass (Anthephora pubescens)
Bottle brush grass is adapted to areas with a rainfall of 250 – 500 mm. In high rainfall areas it can be killed by rust (too much water). It grows best on sandy soils and not in clay soils. It can even grow in soil with a low P-content. It is an excellent and palatable grazing crop and makes a very good standing hay. Although the grazing capacity is low, animal production tends to be high because of high palatably and nutritional value. This grass is a “must” for the dry, sandy areas. Fertilization can be low to medium.
Seeding rate: 2 – 5 kg/ha (in rows dry areas) 5 – 7 kg/ha (broadcast, medium rainfall areas). Hay production: Not for hay production Grazing capacity: 0.5 – 1.0 MLU/ha
Couch grass (Kweek) (Cynodon dactylon)
Couch grass is an indigenous creeper with fine stems and leaves. It does well in sandy soils and grows very often on old crop lands. It is often seen in and outside cattle kraals. It grows all over South Africa in areas with a rainfall of 400 mm and higher. It can be used for erosion control, green gazing and standing hay.
Seeding rate (Couch grass): 5 – 8 kg/ha (dry land), 8 – 10 kg/ha (irrigation). Grazing capacity: 1 – 3 MLU/ha
Prof Chris S Dannhauser ChrisWei
Veld & Pasture consultant, Cell no (+27) 082 873 4736.