How pastures learn


Pastures learn. If you change the way you use them, they modify their plant mixture to compensate. What was planted there at the beginning matters less over time. If your tall grazing system favors red clover and birdsfoot trefoil it doesn’t matter whether you started with lucerne or white clover, you’ll end up in the same place after ten years.


If you get droughts, all the plants that can’t hack the heat will die off and plants that perform better will fill the void. Tall grazing will favor taller plants. Overgrazing will favor white clover. Nature figures this out for you and you are left with a pasture that is better at dealing with your system in the randomness of the local climate than whatever you had chosen to start with.

With this in mind the big question I ask is where are my pastures heading? You stop putting in nitrogen fertilizer and grasses slow down but in their place appear legumes, which can get their nitrogen from the air. In this case, red clover.


This photo is from the paddock we call Florida 1. It was one of the poorer paddocks on the farm but now in its third spring it is climbing back up in fertility driven by a huge amount of that red clover. This make me a happy pastoralist.


If you click on the photo you can see a larger version with the red clover thick in the foreground. I didn’t seed that. The seeds were either already in the soil or have spread from a few plants present at the start. Florida 1 (1.3ha) was so poor it gave only three days grazing in its entire first year. It has been grazed once already in 2013 and given four days worth with a herd about three times the size. I expect it to get grazed a couple more times this year, too.


Right now the legumes are over 50% of the field. I can’t predict the future too well but I’m guessing that the tall grasses will start to take over as they respond to the added nitrogen from the clover.

The cows were keen to move in there.


Below is the remains of a tyre rut from delivering hay across Florida 1 back in February. You can see there is dense grass along with the clover.


Good cow food.

4 thoughts on “How pastures learn

  1. mimiswardrobe says:

    This is fascinating! I always learn something from your posts! What wonderful progress in Florida. I get excited every time I see red clover where there was none before.

  2. Andrew says:

    Nice looking “bad” pasture you’ve got there. We just put the chicken pen out on our worst pasture, I hope that’ll speed up the process a bit, although adding all that nitrogen might hold back the legumes.

  3. grasspunk says:

    Andrew, don’t forget to take before/after photos and post them up for us. I keep missing the before ones.

    After grazing the red clover has come back again. Normally it would have been dry sticks by now but it has been a cool year.

    And one grass that seems to be doing better than before that I haven’t mentioned is timothy. I’ve seeded a bit but it seems to be spreading to neighboring fields.

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