Managing Pasture Through Seasons Of High Rainfall
The quality of pasture that cattle eat is one of the largest determining factors affecting quality when producing meat. If cattle eat light dried grass too much, they lack the nutrients found in wet grass, and vice versa for a wet grass-dominated diet. Farmers looking to manage their cattle to perfection through abnormal weather patterns should focus on the changing quality of pastures.
While rain is one of the key ingredients to healthy pasture growth, too much rain can damage pasture quality and make land unusable for cattle. Drainage around farms is only generally built to the expected rainfall of the area, not a worst-case scenario. As average seasonal rainfalls increase, the existing drainage cannot carry away all the water, leaving pastures wetter than usual. These changes in normal water levels in the pasture can have adverse effects on a farm’s profitability.
With a second La Niña impacted wet season now imminent, farmers must start changing their practices to ensure that their pasture is fit for their cattle and that the long-term profitability of their farm is not compromised.
Sample Soil Regularly
Areas that receive higher than normal rainfall see chemical balances change within the soil to levels dangerous to cattle. When too much water remains in the soil and is unable to drain away properly, chemicals from the air cannot mix with the soil underneath. These conditions tend to see:
- Phosphorus rises to levels higher than optimal.
- Potassium deficiencies.
- Sulphur deficiencies.
- The acid within the soil rises to levels that are too high.
To keep the soil balanced, farmers can apply various natural chemicals and materials to solve the problems. Regular sampling of the soil from various places across the farm is important through periods of irregular weather. This step enables farmers to identify issues early and save costs by avoiding large scale soil issues like the removal of entire top layers.
Once farmers have taken samples from various points within their farm and identified chemical imbalances with their soil, they should change the fertiliser or chemicals used on the land to regulate the balances accordingly. Of the four most common chemical imbalances observed through periods of high rainfall, farms can apply the following techniques to pull the soil back into balance.
- High phosphorus: to lower the phosphorus levels in the soil, farmers should immediately stop using high phosphorus fertilisers. This includes removing the use of organic composts and manures. Low phosphorus substitutes, such as pine bark mulch and blood meal, should be used. Using foliar iron and zinc fertiliser will help the pasture return to normal health.
- Low potassium: Potassium can be added to a deficient soil simply by adding potassium-rich fertiliser.
- Low sulphur: Sulphur can be added in a granular form to bring the chemical balance back into order.
- High soil acidity: farmers should use materials that contain lime to lower the pH of the soil. Agricultural grade ground limestone is one of the most effective ways of lowering the acidity in soil.
While these techniques solve singular chemical imbalances, many of the techniques make other problems worse. For instance, adding sulphur to the soil will raise its acidity and should be used in conjunction with other techniques to ensure all issues with the soil track in the right direction.
Farmers looking to solve major soil imbalances should further research the impact of adding chemicals and fertilisers to their soil and construct a plan to manage all of the typical problems.
As a preventative measure to pasture damage, farmers should build larger drainage than what they anticipate they will need. By doing so, the high rainfalls and flash flooding of La Niña will less likely cause major soil imbalances and damage pasture.
Farmers should build drainage throughout a farm to see water moved from higher ground to low lying rivers and creeks in the most efficient way possible. Any blockages to water run-off areas will see larger water pools develop and in turn adversely affect pasture.
Drainage should be built within farms using materials that ensure drainage will remain uncompromised no matter the weather. While concrete and PVC pipes are cheap and easy to install, their long-term strength degrades quickly over time. To obtain the most value out of a drainage investment, farmers should use galvanised steel pipes. Their anti-corrosion resistance, superior strength and reasonable cost provide the highest ROI of any other alternative.
Rotate Cattle Quicker
When pasture is wet for too long, the stability of the ground is significantly compromised. Due to their weight, cattle can damage the ground and upturn the soil if pastures are left too wet. When the ground is too damaged, it cannot grow pasture in upcoming seasons, thereby limiting the farm’s profitability.
Though higher than average rainfall is expected, farmers should rotate their cattle through paddocks faster to protect the integrity of pastures.
While a La Niña affected wet season presents many challenges for farmers looking to protect the quality of their pasture, farmers can employ many techniques and processes to protect the profitability of their farm. Steel Supplies Charters Towers is an experienced provider of cattle handling equipment with extensive knowledge in future-proofing farms for periods of extreme and larger than normal rainfalls. For inquiries on how to protect your pasture and what infrastructure farmers should develop, speak to our friendly team today.