Spring grazing managements which allowed some early inflorescence development, followed by hard grazing in order to remove the reproductive stems (designated ‘late control’), were compared with a conventional close grazing strategy (‘early control’) in three paddock-scale complete randomized block studies with dairy cows grazing perennial ryegrass/white clover pastures during consecutive years (1990–1993) in Palmerston North, New Zealand. Experiment 1 was designed to evaluate the timing of late control, Expt 2 to investigate the most suitable intensity of control, and Expt 3 tested different practical approaches to carrying out the late control management.
Late control generated an average herbage production increase of 24% (750 kg DM/ha) in October and November (spring) and 22% (950 kg DM/ha) from January to April (summer–autumn) compared with the conventional management. The increase in herbage accumulation during spring was a consequence of greater perennial ryegrass reproductive development. Increased summer–autumn herbage accumulation after late control management was attributed to enhanced tillering activity and accumulation of perennial ryegrass. Effects on white clover production were inconsistent. Experiment 3 compared the effects of two practical late control strategies, involving either a short period of rapid rotational grazing or a simulation of increased stocking rate normally associated with forage conservation, on the milk production and forage intake of groups of cows in self-contained farmlet systems. During the control period, the reproductive state of the sward caused a small decrease in herbage digestibility. However, the extra herbage produced subsequently did not differ in digestibility from that produced on the conventionally managed sward and resulted in an increase of around 11·5% in total milk solids yield (fat, protein and lactose) per cow, particularly towards the end of the season (March and April).
The late control spring grazing management strategy is a viable option for dairy farmers. It should coincide with the time of anthesis of ryegrass plants (late November–early December), and is more effectively achieved when forage conservation practices are used to augment grazing pressure in the grazed area of the farm.