Working with dairy farmers to improve their pasture management skills through better understanding the principles of ryegrass growth


  • Brian Clarke PGG Wrightson
  • Danny Donaghy Massey University
  • Marie Casey PGG Wrightson



case study approach, co-learning, daughter tillers, leaf emergence interval, leaf regrowth stage


The relationships between leaf regrowth stage, pre- and post-grazing pasture covers, and grazing rotation length are complex. Despite the existence of well-documented grazing guidelines for managing these relationships, implementation on-farm is highly variable indicating that skill levels are often inadequate and/or farmers are not convinced of the benefits. Twenty dairy farm managers and assistant managers from the Hopkins Farming Group in the lower North Island engaged in structured observation and discussion with experts to test the potential of the 3-leaf grazing technique for increasing pasture production and reducing imported supplement use from mid-spring to mid-autumn. The farmer members of the study group initially had little knowledge of the principles of ryegrass growth at the plant level, and how their management influences pasture production and persistence. Grazing management skills developed by group members during the process included: identification of pasture species within the sward, including perennial ryegrass; identification of leaf morphology, tillers, tiller buds and daughter tillers; pasture health checks to understand when new tillers appeared and their grazing and nutrient needs; and the importance of grazing residuals for future pasture quality. Pasture productivity, as measured by the amount of silage conserved, increased by approximately 0.45 t DM/ha during the 6 months of study through the application of this grazing management technique. Managing grazing using the 3-leaf technique requires a greater depth of knowledge than previous, simple, rotation length-based systems. Many farmers are concerned about the lack of persistence of new ryegrass cultivars, whereas it may be their management practices that have a greater influence.






Resilient Pastures Symposium 2021