North Canterbury sheep & beef - Pasture & crop options after drought


  1. The adverse conditions, particularly in North Canterbury, has reduced farms ability to produce feed.  To get things back on track, home grown feed is the cheapest option.
  2. Rank paddock performance: poor, unsure and good.  Poor paddocks in high productivity soils/areas should be targeted first.
  3. Look at production curves of different pasture and crop options - likely you need to sow a mix of species to get through the coming year.
  4. Autumn sowings should be part of plan.


Spring sowing programme 

A plan needs to be developed to produce the feed needed for the season ahead for individual farms.  Success comes down to attention to detail and timing, so planning early helps greatly.  After an extended dry period generally the need for short term feed is higher, and a larger percentage of the farm needs sown, typically with a mix of plant species.


Main crop options

Chicory: crop can provide high feed quality (higher than plantain) multiple grazing through late spring, summer and autumn. Ideal finishing feed. Can be sown with clovers (white and/or red), then ryegrass direct-drilled in autumn to become a permanent pasture.

Plantain: similar to chicory in summer growth, the advantage of plantain is better persistence so in summer dry areas it can be a 2 year (possibly 2.5 year) option. It also has better cool season growth.

Rape: spring sown rape will provide a bulk of quality feed late spring into summer. Cultivars vary from leafier ones for lambs (e.g. Titan) to taller higher yielding types for cattle (e.g. Interval).

Leafy turnips: are another option for very fast feed, mature in 50-60 days.

Cereals: (e.g. Triticale) are another good option for spring feed, and have the advantage that they can be sown earlier than other crops.


Main pasture options

Italian/ Annual ryegrass: provide late spring feed, and undersowing them can be good option to if there are large areas of run out pasture.  Growth into summer will depend on rainfall. But if grow just 2 t DM/ha this spring for cost of $200/ha (seed & direct drill) is 10c/kgDM.  If it rains into summer they could grow more.

Hybrid ryegrass: (e.g. Shogun). Provide similar establishment to Italian/annual ryegrass, but often come with an endophyte and with their hybrid genetics are more likely to persist. More $ than Italian ryegrass, so suit heavier soils, or where summer moisture supply (and likely growth) better.

Perennial grasses:  are slower establishing & more expensive than hybrid ryegrass, so you need to be confident of getting enough summer moisture so they persist through to autumn to sow these. Otherwise wait till late summer/early autumn before sowing these.

Lucerne:  Great producer of quality feed through late spring into summer, and autumn (moisture permitting). Has specific grazing requirements that need built into the farm system. 


How to sow - three main ways

Full cultivation, most reliable method, as it gives good weed and pest control.

Spray-drilling, where you spray the existing pasture then direct-drill seed, can give a quicker turn-around than cultivation and conserves moisture lost through cultivation. But pest issues are more likely (e.g. springtails, nysius, Argentine stem weevil, slugs) so consider treated seed, an insecticide when spraying out and slug bait.  

Undersowing, which is direct-drilling ryegrass seed without a herbicide spray, is a lower cost method that works well in patching up thin pastures, where there is space for seedlings to establish. Pests can be an issue as for spray-drilling.  Can be good option to renew larger areas.


When to sow

Some areas it is still too dry to sow, so rain is still needed.  And currently it is too cold to sow most things except maybe cereal.  For other species better establishment will come from sowing in warmer soil temperatures from September on. Seek advice the the sowing times for your area.


Autumn sowing

Build into plans your autumn sowing now, to get the longer term productivity of the farm back to where it should be. Some possible options are:

Pasture brome:  is deep-rooting and palatable, with much better persistence than ryegrass. Sow early with sub and white clovers – building in a summer-fallow into the system now, then direct-drilling brome, is a great way to have moisture in autumn.

Tall fescue:  as for bromes are deep-rooting and persistent. They best suit clays and heavier soils (where get roots down into moisture), whereas bromes like free-draining soils.

Perennial ryegrass:  is fast and reliable to establish, and some modern cultivars with good endophytes, have been bred to help persistence. Not a miracle grass though.  Ryegrass suits better soils, and you need to avoid overgrazing in extended dry summers.

Cocksfoot:  is the most persistent of all grasses.  Can be mixed in a pasture at 2-3 kg/ha.  Can also be the base grass of a pasture, but very slow to establish, so sow early after summer fallow.

White clover:  remains critical to fix nitrogen and provide high feed quality in late spring and summer. Use small-medium leaved, highly stoloniferous types.

Annual clovers: several available, sub clover being the most widely used. They can produce more early spring DM than white clover, but need to be allowed to reseed. Seek specific advice on these.



Plan for the season now - the areas and species you need to sow, and when - to provide stock the feed they need.  Then adjust your plans to suit the weather as the season unfolds.