With spring just around the corner, if you're on a lifestyle block, it's time to start thinking about how you're going to top your paddocks this season!
Pasture topping, in an agricultural sense, is a practice used to make the most of favourable seasonal conditions by mowing grass regularly and thus maximise drymatter production.
Smokey Goat Mowers are often used to top pasture to promote healthy pasture growth.
Pasture topping also makes your pastures look a lot tidier by removing scraggly seedheads, weeds, thistle and clumps!
Here are 5 tips, accumulated from experience and customers advice, that will help you "get on topp" of your pastures this season.
1 - Know the 'Topping Season' in your area
In most parts of NZ, October - January can loosely be defined as 'Topping Season.' This is generally the period for most parts of NZ where temperatures and soil moisture combine to provide the conditions for rapid pasture growth.
2 - Clean Up the Clumps First
In many paddocks - particularly on lifestyle blocks where Smokey Goat Mowers are often used - clumps of various species can form when the ryegrass pasture is in a vegetative state. Cocksfoot, thistle and rushes can all form clumps which need to be mown down so that the highly nutritious ryegrass can compete effectively. The best time to get on top (excuse the pun!) of these clumps is prior to the topping season, to knock them down prior to the ryegrass's growth season.
3 - Watch your paddocks closely
You will need to keep a close eye on your pasture as the topping season approaches. Once ryegrass is generally at around 120-150mm across most of your pasture, you want to do your first topping.
If, for some reason, your pastures get away on you and do go to seed - not all is lost. The sooner you can top them the better, and keep topping until you get to the height recommended below.
4 - Mow down to around 80-100mm
Generally speaking - note this varies for different species of grass - but most grasses should be topped down to 80mm to really stimulate growth. At 80mm, the seed head will be well and truly knocked off the plant, and the plant will be putting its efforts into leaf production rather than seed.
5 - The 1/3 Rule
When topping your paddocks, remember the rule of thirds; don't mow more than 1/3 of the plant height. If your pasture is approx 120mm high, mow at 80mm. If your pasture is 180mm, you may need to mow twice; once at 120mm and then again at 80mm, to get on top of the pasture growth. If you do need to mow twice, space the mowings apart by a couple of days, to give the cut grass time to filter down into the base of the sward.
When mowing clumps, this isn't so critical, it's more important to get them down and under control.
The 1/3 rule is important for two reasons. Firstly, retaining 2/3 height minimises the shock effect that mowing has on the grass plant. Secondly, for appearance's sake - it allows some space for the cut grass to filter down into. Thirdly, it will always be faster and easier to mow - the top 1/3 is considerably lighter compared to lower parts of the grass leaf, so mowing will always be more efficient if following this rule.