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Stackyard News May 07

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Top Your Swards to Maximise Pasture Potential

Kuhn’s Robert Garthwaite says the pasture topper, if used in a timely fashion, could be one of the livestock farmer’s most important tools this summer.

Front mounting of the pasture topper leaves a more complete result by avoiding wheelings, whether controlling weeds or maintain grazing quality.

kuhn bpr 280

In a perfect world, pasture topping is a waste of good grass, but in a season of volatile weather and unpredictable growing conditions it has a valuable role in optimising herbage production. It might also be the best way to keep grassland weeds under control.

Grass grown for grazing is like no other crop. We want swards to produce as much vegetative growth as possible throughout the season - without heading – and that is totally against nature’s intentions. As such, farmers need all the help they can get to maximise productivity.

“Under an ideal grazing regime, stocking rates will be kept at levels to maintain an optimum sward height with excess grass mown for conservation,” says Robert Garthwaite. “But in summers with average temperatures and rainfall it is not uncommon for grass to grow away from stock, creating the possibility of heading.

“When grass plants produce seed heads, production of leafy tillers stops and energy is channelled towards generating seeds on an erect lignified stem.

“Tactical use of a pasture topper to prevent seed heads developing can be a very useful intervention in order to keep pastures as productive as possible throughout the season.”

Pasture toppers are more widely used by farmers for grassland weed control, although for some this may be more of a cosmetic exercise than a serious attempt to end an infestation.

Certainly in an organic farming situation or on any farm where agrochemical use may be restricted, strategic topping is by far the best means of controlling thistles.

“Thistles must be topped before they head, but no earlier than the end of June in a typical year,” says Robert Garthwaite. “By leaving a clean cut stubble of several inches, the open stems allow water down into the root, which causes rotting and kills a good proportion of the thistles.

“It’s not a complete kill, but in a regime where sprays are not used, it is a highly effective means of control.”

Pasture toppers will on many farms be increasingly required for other tasks, such as field margin and set aside maintenance, so it is important to match you machine to it full range of uses. When replacing your worn out topper, think about wider usage and ensure you select a machine that has the capacity and strength to meet your needs.

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