Dactylis glomerata, orchard grass, cat grass, or most commonly ‘cocksfoot’ is often misunderstood and seen as a relic of the past with no relevance in today’s farming systems.
Al & Juddy bust this myth by dissecting its rich history and explaining cocksfoot’s resilience and productivity in a dryland environment.
Listen in and find out how you could reap the benefits of cocksfoot in your farming system.
‘Sometimes something that is not perfect is actually still really important. And if you don’t like it because it’s not perfect, you miss the fact this it’s actually still quite important’- Allister Moorhead
Juddy Good to see you Allister, looks like you've had your hair straightened, but anyway.
Al Aw thanks Juddy, pleased you noticed.
Juddy What are we talking about today Allister?
Al Glenn we're going to be talking about dactylis glomerata, cocksfoot
Juddy Cocksfoot, excellent.
Al It's a, almost malign species. But it's got a really important part of a landscape. And its going to be an interesting discussion because sometimes something that is not perfect is actually still really important. And if you don't like it because it's not perfect, you miss the fact that it's actually still quite important.
Juddy This is going to be really interesting, really interesting. Now cocksfoot, it has got another name
Al Orchard grass. And especially to our North American listeners which would be a more common name for it in North America.
Juddy Or just as a diversion actually Allister I was at an orchard recently actually with my daughter and we stood there and we looked at the trees for an hour and it turns out that it wasn't the type of Apple Watch she was, after.
Al Aw Glenn I pity your daughters, by the way, with jokes like that anyway, so I hope people are still listening.
Juddy Right. So we are going to talk about cocksfoot. And I think you're right, it is a quite a misunderstood species. In a line-up of grasses, let's say there's five or six grasses that are all lined up under lights and you've got to identify them. How would you describe a cocksfoot? How would you pick a cocksfoot out? What are the features of a Cocksfoot that distinguish it from other grasses?
Al Yes. So I would go firstly and I'm quite a layman and a very visual animal, so I would describe it's colour first and it's actually not an easy colour to describe because, for a lot of people, pastures are just green. But in this case, there's lots of shades of green and slightly different versions as well.
Juddy Are there 50 shades of green or is that something else?
Al Guarantee you there's 50 shades of green and I'm sure they're just as exciting as any other 50 shades of something. Anyway, with cocksfoot, we are looking at a sort of like a blue, a bluey green. Uh, and it's I don't know how else to describe it, but it's a bluey green colouring.
Juddy I wonder if, you know, one of those paint companies have actually got kind of a bluey green called cocksfoot. I'm not sure. But anyway. It's bluey green.
Al Yeah. And to be fair, there's about two other grasses with a very similar colouring.
Juddy What are they?
Al One is Timothy.
Al And the other is Phalaris. I'd like to think, one or two people would see Timothy in the New Zealand landscape a little bit every now and then, it is quite a small grass until it gets to Christmas time, and then it has a quite a long seed head, almost like a cigarette. But when it's in its pastoral state it's as quite a bluey green sort of colouring. Phalaris we wouldn't see too much in New Zealand, but it's a significant base of the sheep industry in Australia. And again it has got a very similar colouring. But cocksfoot is that same colour. Now. You can see this quite easily when you've got a mixture, it is more obvious that I'm describing it as a colouring source. But it has another major characteristic that is even easier once you see the bluish greenish grass and then you want to go and look at it. It's got a very flat tiller. So most grasses are clumped and they're made up of a group of tillers, and these tillers create multiple leaves. And they also obviously can actually have a root structure coming off the bases on them. And you can pull these pillars apart and naturally sow them out and they will become clones of the original plant. But these tillers, in the case of cocksfoot, are flat and it's quite a distinct characteristic. And when the leaves emerge, they emerge flat, unlike Timothy, which is completely round.
Juddy So those two characteristics, the bluish green leaf and the flat tiller are probably the ones that you would distinguish cocksfoot with.
Al But there's lots and lots of other detail you could probably focus on, including the seed head, you know, other examples. But from a general pastoral perspective and keeping this at a really high level that they would be the to take home visuals.
Juddy So the seed, just describe to me what that looks like because there's a bit of a clue in the name.
Al Yeah. I don't get the clue either actually. I've read about this as well and then it's developed its name by it's seed head apparently looking like a rooster's foot.
Juddy As in cocks foot.
Al Cocks foot, but I can't see it. I don't get it. Anyway, it is a bunched seed head that when it's out in full flower it is you know you have your primary stem right up to the top and when its in full flower, the sponge seed forms are as out on small panicles. Quite rigid panicles. So it doesn't droop. It's still erect in the sponge habit, these little branches that come off the top and then the seeds are still clusters on these branches. And so really bad description to be quite frank, but it's also a fair description of I don't quite understand how it became cocksfoot.
Juddy Maybe we're dealing with sort of an inbreed. We probably have, but let's move on from that. In terms of root structure, do you think if we looked at the roots whether they would differ too much compared to a ryegrass, for example?
Al Oh, look, that's a really good question because probably it's underground where cocksfoot gets most of its sort of reputation from. It's described as having a big strong root structure and quite aggressive. As a species it's really important to put in here right now, cocksfoot is a naturalised grass species of low, medium to low fertility environments, nice free draining soils. Actually, it's happy places in an a moderate rainfall, not a low, probably around 800 mils on a free draining soil is it's true happy place. In Australia we have varieties and types of cocksfoots that will go down to 550 millimetres and in Mediterranean environments there's cocksfoots that are actually truly summer dormant and can probably cope with 450 to 550 mil rainfalls and they go completely dormant in summer. But in general terms, cocksfoot is a grass of free draining soils in rainfall zones of between 650 and about 850 mil rainfalls. And again, I would reiterate in a medium to low fertility world, so this is its strengths. It is therefore perceived to have these big root structures. However, if I were to describe the root structure to the average person, I would actually say it's actually a very aggressive feeder from the soil of around the top 20 centimetres. And that's not a zone much greater than ryegrass, the top 20 centimetres. But, cocksfoot dominates that top 20 centimetres very aggressively for both moisture and fertility. It has a proportion of its roots drop below 20 centimetres. That's a very soil type dependent. But the other trait that makes cocksfoot quite unique is it does develop these very solid and consistent crowns. And so when you get these clumps of cocksfoot the challenge I give most people is to actually take the time to pull one out one day, because that really defines how much root structure thereis. And nine times out of ten, you will be able to pull out a cockfoot plant. Now if that was tall fescue with its deep dreadlocks, root structures dropping well below 30 centimetres, really hard to pull a tall fescue out of the ground. But cocksfoot, which is apparently got big root structures as well, is quite easy to pull out of the ground, which again highlights the majority of it as a gross feeder in the top 20 centimetres.
Juddy One of the other characteristics and it really surprised me when when I was looking at a cocksfoot stand that had a lot of cover on it was the length of the leaves they can get really long.
Al Really long. But I would also highlight that it's highly variety orientated and if we get into what’s changed in the New Zealand cocksfoot breeding environment is that you tend to find, you know, particularly our business at Agricom is our plant breeders have really valued long leaves. And so if we for example, harvested a single cocksfoot plant for seed in January or February and then left it all the way to June, some of the leaves will be about about one metre long, maybe 1.2 metres long, come right up to the middle or even your chest. And so, yes, they continue to elongate quite dramatically when they're out by themselves and left for long periods of time.
Juddy Yeah, that was the characteristic that really, really surprised me. So, in terms of the history of the plant, in terms of we talked about worldwide, you know, this was being exported out of the US, you know, in the 1700s. So it's a pasture species has been around for a long time. Give us a flavour of what the the history has been in a New Zealand context.
Al We will probably have speakers at a later date which may be able to tease out this in more detail because my knowledge base doesn't really go that far back and in real terms. But we do live in Canterbury and Banks Peninsula, which is on the edge of Christchurch and the Canterbury Plains has a really incredible history of cocksfoot seed production off the hills. And it was exported back to the UK in the very early 1920s. And through that phase a lot of good detail and the museum at Lyttleton, sorry, Akaroa. And you know, it played a big role in the development of the Banks Peninsula sort of agricultural community. Well worth following up next time you're in Akaroa. And so cocksfoot has played a role in that landscape, volcanic hills, relatively high rainfall, but nice summers and in an ideal place to, you know, harvest and export back to Europe. So that's one of the more distinct histories in the New Zealand environment. After that, our government body at the time, AgResearch, had bred a couple of modern cocksfoots for there day in the late seventies and they were released commercially in the early eighties, the first of them being a variety called Wana, which had a quite a big history in the eighties. It was actually a grass that promised a lot because the landscape was very, very different then. We were heavily stocked. We had close to 62 to 64 million, I think sheep at that time there was subsidies associated with having livestock numbers, particularly sheep at that point. The fertility of most of the New Zealand sheep industry was particularly low. The soil fertility regularly phosphate levels and Olsen P terms under 15 quite regularly between 8 and 14. Cocksfoot was very much the perennial grass of the moment. But of course, one of the problems with it being too successful was that, if you line up your five grasses and ask about where they all sit in the world of quality and animal performance, you know cocksfoot probably doesn't sit in the top three and probably not even number four, which probably makes cocksfoot sit around number five as far as your top five. And and so the reality is from an animal performance palatability perspective, you know, which will probably tease out now.
Juddy Yes. So I guess it's a great history and I think one of the things that defines its history or was an important part of its history was some of the early sheep trials, which exactly that Allister, that showed that this plant, while it was very good in terms of those low phosphates and during those periods of dry. In terms of trying to finish lambs, wasn't particularly good. And really if you wanted to look at the reasons for that is you've got a plant that has got quite a thick cell wall and therefore even in its most.
Al Vegetative state.
Juddy Vegetative state, it still has a high amount of the most indigestible parts of a plant. So, trying to get quality of that was pretty difficult.
Al Yeah. But in saying that, it is worth teasing it out. It's still, when everything's leafy, everything's moist, it is below ryegrass, it's slightly below tall fescue. Tall fescue and prairie grass, for example, would be very similar. Likewise, Timothy would sit between tall fescue and ryegrass, so my ranking for quality would be ryegrass, Timothy, fescue, Prairie Grass, cocksfoot in that order. And so it's not far away, it's just uniformly below them.
Al And so it's not rubbish because when cocksfoot is rubbish the other grasses are rubbish as well.
Juddy Yeah. So in a line up, you know it is one of the poorer quality grasses. But not to say that actually at any one point it can be actually quite a high quality pasture.
Al If anyone could sort of picture the white board that we don't have that I am now drawing on, showing you a like an 's' curve from left to right, starting high, going down and then levelling out as low. The key is a ryegrass is very, very high quality when it's managed well through the majority of the season. Extremely high quality. Now, cocksfoot sits below the height, that of quality that ryegrass gets but has the same 's' shaped curve. And to be fair, they cross over in the middle. And interestingly enough, on average, cocksfoot But doesn't quite get as low as ryegrass does, as fast as ryegrass. So when everything's nice and moist and not too hot, ryegrass is exceptional. But as it gets hotter and hotter and probably the fertility regime starts to back off a little, but ryegrass crashes. And by the time it's a brown stubble in 32 degrees in the middle of summer, ryegrass is actually very poor quality and for a window of time before cocksfoot finally gets to the same place, it will hold quality at the bottom end where if we're talking about megajoules and metabolisable energy, ryegrass might very well at its worst in the middle of summer in a dry environment get down to about 8.8 ME. At the very same point of time that cocksfoot maybe 9.2. Vice versa, ryegrass might be a ME of 12.4 for long periods of time where the cocksfoot may be at 12 or 11.8.
Juddy You're right. And I think interestingly so if it's a quality forage that you're after, then you might go, well, ryegrass is probably the pick. But I guess the really intering thing here is that cocksfoot does suit some systems and bring some other things apart from that quality to those systems.
Al Well, if we come back to your research in, let's discuss the research because actually, what has caused cocksfoot some harm as we came out of the Wana era of the eighties, particularly with this huge stock numbers, we were actually only producing lamb carcase weights of about 12 kilograms as we came out of the eighties. And as our stock numbers started to decline and we started feeding animals better, you know, our ewe performance increased, our lamb lambing percentages increased in New Zealand and we started to see a schedule arrive for higher lamb weights. Now the key is all the published papers of the eighties and the nineties were solely done on summer lamb finishing. Not the farm system. Just summer lamb finishing. So our reputation was very much formed that cocksfoot was very poor for animal performance. However, this was solely done on lambs in summer, not for all the stock classes that we have in our landscape. And also in the day our landscape was a little bit toxic with a lot of standard endophyte ryegrass, which is the endophyte which we've discussed in a previous podcast on ‘what is an endophyte?’ and the standard endophyte is quite toxic through the summer months particularly has feeding alkaloids and the impact feeding alkaloids impact a live weight gain. Now cocksfoot never had that. So in the really hot, dry environments where that was a big deal, it was a dilution factor in those pastures. But the pure cocksfoot research for lambs highlighted that cocksfoot was not good compared to other things, and that was repeated over and over and over again, maybe with a bit of deer work at the start of the nineties as well, but predominantly with lambs in summertime.
Juddy Yeah. And I think the really important part about that was that we just assumed at that point that if it wasn't great for growing lambs, lambs that we almost ruled out all other stock classes.
Juddy And it wasn't really until we started doing a little bit of work in terms of putting this in front of cattle and also recognise the importance of the legume with the cocksfoot that we really started to look at what benefits the whole system could bring.
Al I think that's exactly where we want to be in this discussion, is start to tease out so what's changed but I can't emphasise enough. This is compartmentalised research looking at pure stands and the absence of how they fit on the whole farm for 12 months of the year and what are the farm's needs. Creates a big change that often takes the industry a long time to recover from. So the net result of virtually a decade of research telling people that cocksfoot was bad for animal performance based on lambs in summertime was that for most of New Zealand we took cocksfoot out of our perennial grass mixes through the 2000s. So it was a direct result of extensive research telling us cocksfoot is not great for animals, only to remove the cocksfoot from the general pasture mixes of most of our farm types. Then to find that we're starting to feed our animals better, things are going well, live weights improving, we've got novel and safe endophytes now on farm with ryegrass pastures. Things are great, but suddenly tough conditions have brought persistence issues and we've just taken the most persistent species out of our pasture mixes because in the eighties and the nineties we were told it really bad for animals. And now we're talking about persistence. And the other thing that occurred in New Zealand was as our sheep flocks started to decline, a cattle herd started increasing and of course all the work was done on lambs. And now we're talking about a landscape which has got more and more cattle in it and at the heart and soul of what cocksfoot is. It is actually a cattle grass. And this is where it has lead on to exactly the discussion you've studied.
Juddy And I think the other point and you've made it a little bit earlier was and breeding has changed, what we see a cocksfoot is. And so with that breeding, from what I can see, we've got a plant which is probably much cleaner. And when I talk about cleaner, it's probably got less disease. But also and I remember closing some paddocks early at Marshdale and we had both an old style and one of the new styles.
Al And when we say old, we're talking about a naturalised pasture from 1970, and the cocksfoot would have been the same cocksfooot what was sown in 1970. So pre Wana.
Juddy Yeah, pre Wana. And comparing that with the likes of Savvy some of the new breeding and I think the two things that stuck out from that exercise were one, just how clean from disease those modern types are. In the second one was the amount of seed head or the loading of seed head even though we would shut that up was so much less in these and these modern cocksfoot so maybe some of the issues in terms of quality.
Al Be aware that this is a variety by variety not all breeding houses value that but in our business we have very low aftermath seeding. So the seeding phase is very narrow and quite clean basically.
Juddy And so what struck me was that we could build up quite large amounts of cover standing with this plant, but then it only took one grazing event to get that back into what was a normal rotation. So now we're starting to see, we are talking about quality here, but now we're starting to see some of the flexibility you've got, particularly in a cattle system around the ways of shifting feed round.
Al Well, for example, the other thing of the floor that is that if you use that very traditional stored summer feed type scenario, you wouldn't want to put lambs on it.
Al And you're probably, just to put it in perspective, wouldn't want to put a high performance R1 one cattle stock rising one year olds you know but as a hay shed for R2's to get them from one period to another or even for high performance cows that have dropped body condition at the end of weaning, it's a sort of feed that they would eat really successfully and do very, very well on.
Juddy Yes. So I guess this is we're not saying this is necessarily exactly the best management of it, but it what it gives you is flexibility.
Al It did a good job.
Juddy It did a fantastic job. And I think the other part of that, so we've got these cleaner cultivars that are from modern breeding. We have recognised the real benefit of getting our legumes and that. And I just want to pull that apart a little bit more because we have gone through a phase where we've wondered which are the most appropriate legumes. Because in those very low rainfall zones. Maybe our traditional white clover is not exactly the legume that we're after, and we have had some success with adding lecerne into those mixes. So let's have a little talk about that legume experience.
Al So, first things first, the average liveweight we are seeing off our modern cocksfoot for cattle is actually really competitive with virtually all other grass species. And when I say that, I really mean long term liveweight. So you've been doing this work at our Mashdale beef unit and here in Canterbury for a number of years, highly measured animals. And, I think a lot of listeners would be blown away to recognise or to understand that relative to high performance ryegrass or to a degree, although fescue and fescue clover has been our most successful liveweight gain type you know, a pure stand of cocksfoot with a legume base isn't as far behind as anyone would imagine when it comes to cattle.
Juddy Particularly, and I'll just throw this in as a really important observation here is if you measure it. Sorry if you manage it like cocksfoot likes to be managed.
Al Yeah, to a degree.
Juddy If you're managing it like ryegrass, then maybe the ryegrass is better. But there are some key things we might come back to those, there are some key things about managing cocksfoot, which allows you to get the best out of it.
Al But the bigger result of some of that work was your question about legumes for different situations, both the high rainfall zones that get summer dry, but also the true dry land environments that burn off in the spring. For the true dryland environments where you start, you know, and to be honest, I'm a believer that most of your pasture mixes and that you focus on perennialty, but particularly in low fertility environments and moderate rainfall. I'm a big believer that you sow cocksfoot with ryegrass because there's money to be made off ryegrass in the short term. And as long as you put enough cocksfoot in your perenniality and your longevity and your decision process around your pastures made off the cocksfoot when it goes through the second, third, fourth, fifth year and becomes a more cocksfoot dominant stand, however, matching the legume to these things is as the big deal. So in dry land environments, there are four legumes, they are the big four to be fair in all terms, but they take on a bigger significance. I personally know lucerne has a very defined place as a cropping plant and we will discuss it again another time. And it's as a crop, it's undeniable. But as a perennial legume in a pasture, it actually still has a role with cocksfoot to create that true perenniality and primarily the impact of how long will that lucerne last in a cocksfoot pasture will depend on how long you rest it between grazing and with what stock class. So for sheep set stocking for three months with your cocksfoot base pasture isn't ideal. Set stocking for four weeks to six weeks is not a big drama in the world if you give it 40 days to recover or 45 days to recover. So Lucerne, as a tap rooted plant in a low rainfall environment, is an ideal partner for lucerne as it harvests a lot of moisture and nutrients from below cocksfoot. The other species, though, that has or has a really strong fit in warmer climates, not the colder climates, but the warmer climates is subterranean clover. It is a great fit for cocksfoot, cocksfoot’s tend to create space around it as it outcompetes other species. And that space is often not always filled by weeds, because cocksfoot is very aggressive against everything but the natural cycle of subterranean clover setting seed in a spring before the onset of a hot dry summer and then regenerating from seed where there is space and bare ground fits and dare I say it a clumpy style of dry land cocksfoot pastures so subterranean clover has a great fit in warmer climates. Then red clover in a slightly more moist environment that is not as hot, red clover has a huge fit with cocksfoot and is really complementary to particularly a cattle system with cocksfoot about and then the fourth species and I'll never not put this in and that is white clover because if you have a good year, white clover does really well and will also naturally reseed quite prolifically and actually almost turn into a pseudo annual type species if it gets a really successful reseeding. So all will keep regenerating over the years whenever you have a moist summer, cooler summer and cocksfoot is less aggressive in those conditions and white clover can actually be really relevant.
Juddy Yeah. So I think traditionally we would have gone to the reds and the whites and the subs and I think the message here is that we have actually got some really good results from using lucerne as the legume, particularly in these cocksfoot pastures.
Al Especially the deeper, free draining environments.
Juddy And I think whichever legume that we choose, my message is that the we elevate the performance of both the plant and the animal off that by addressing that legume content. If we can get a good a legume content in the there, that sets us up for, you know, high quality material, forage, but also healthy plants.
Al And I suppose we shouldn't get off that subject without looking at the problem with cocksfoot and the problem with cocksfoot is nearly always that it tends to be in light, free, draining soils of moderate to low fertility. If you're in high fertility environments and slightly better soil, you often will go to different grasses and different combinations. But in these lower fertility environments, more summer dry environments, you tend to find your natural nitrogen reserves are quite low and therefore nitrogen cycling is one of the weaknesses associated with those more cocksfoot orientated scenes, its very good at harvesting any nutrient that's in the soil and cycling it and actually producing a really large amount of dry matter from a moderate amount of nitrogen availability. You put more nitrogen on cocksfoot it just grows more. It's a really strong responder to available nitrogen.
Juddy There was probably another bit that really surprised me when we started doing some of this work is we think of cocksfoot as a plant for moderate fertility. But when we started applying even moderate amounts of nitrogen to that plant, the response that we got out of it from a drymatter production point of view was outstanding.
Al The plant science team at Lincoln University have done some great work on that, including work that relates to water use efficiency associated with nitrogen content. And of course, that's one of these keys. If a plant has a good nitrogen status, it's much more efficient all round, including efficiency in the use of moisture. And there's some really, really good work on that topic out of that university. And it makes a real difference to both its palatability, live weight gain expectations, but also just sheer volume and therefore what you can do with that feed and your farm system.
Juddy So in our systems experiments, we were typically getting very similar production per hectare off some of these stands, not necessarily because we were growing animals a whole lot faster, but when we started managing cocksfoot on a slightly longer round, you know, building up larger pre grazing covers, what we were actually finding is that the carrying capacity of those stands was slightly higher. Which basically offset any small decreases that we might have had in per animal production. So, but the trick there was managing and that slightly longer round and not going in at three tonne and maybe more going on at four tonne for example.
Al And I think there comes this synergy that once you systemise cocksfoot for a cattle system, which is what you're describing, it's really important to acknowledge that because there's a lot of sheep farmers that, you know cocksfoot is a really important species for perenniality in there landscapes. And again, they are more consistently grazing, they often more intensely grazing than cattle and more selective. So they're targeting the other species that are more palatable than cocksfoot. They all create their own problems, but with cattle, you know, the volume that we can convert is just fits cattle system so strongly, but most importantly, the rotation length that creates the volume fits red clover and lucerne magnificently and to a lesser degree, but no less important chicory.
Juddy So if we then just come back to a farm because I think I want to just tease that out a little bit more in terms of our farm systems, the farm systems that would put cocksfoot in and the way that we might manage those, because I think that's really important. You've made a really important point that my heads in with cattle grazing in terms of those big covers. But this is a base for sheep production aswell.
Al Well Juddy, you take me through, you call the system and I'll tell you the roll of cocksfoot in that system.
Juddy So let's start with the dear old sheep farmers. So as if we were explaining, let's now use the modern genetics in terms of things like Savvy. Where would you see Savvy placed in a sheep system? Well lets say a breeding finishing sheep system.
Al Okay. So here we go. This is the thing about asking the right questions and you've just asked me a question, but we haven't teased out a couple of those things. So we need to understand what is the role of perennial pastures and what are your expectations of perennial pastures? What's your farm rotation length and what are you expecting to be able to get around your farm and renew those pastures? Now, if you're in a fertile environment, you may have pretty valuable land and it's going to be quite a lot smaller than some of our bigger sheep and beef operations. You know cocksfoot probably actually doesn't play as big a role, to be quite honest with you. But as soon as perenniality for the economics of re pasturing becomes an elevated discussion cocksfoot but as an incredibly important part of it. So, in all intents and purposes, you've got two distinct environments. You've got just the warmer dry land or colder Central New Zealand dry land environments, and cocksfoot does play a very strong role in that world and is solely from perenniality. If you could get ryegrass to last, you would. But the reality is, if ryegrass dies, it's so much better having cocksfoot there than the other weak grasses that come in behind them. For the free draining medium fertility environment that has a bit more summer moisture up to, say, for example, 800 mils, which is a big chunk of the New Zealand landscape. The desire to have cocksfoot as part of your pasture mix is there because you can do better with ryegrass, but that whole zone is really significantly infested with brown top. And so although ryegrass is your ideal species, before you get to your end of 10, maybe 12 year rotation on a sheep and beef farm and that sort of 800 to 1000 mil rainfall moderate fertility landscape, you will be having regenerated brown top into that landscape. Now finishing the last part of that rotation as a cocksfoot stand fits that type of farm business really well make money off ryegrass for four or five maybe six years but finish with cocksfoot, which gives you your longevity for as long as you actually want to use it for before you have too much of it or become something, it fits so well. Because you have cattle inside your system and they are roaming and they will be grazing those stands more often than not or prepping them for other stock classes. You have capital ewes large flocks of ewes. Now they are not prime lambs. Their job is to be held, their job is to be feed well under periods of stress and actually cocksfoot can do that. It can feed them surprisingly well and much better than brown top for big chunks of that time. So in the sheep and beef scenario, that is exactly where cocksfoot would play its role. Really important in the dry land environments being cold or warm important for the mid rainfall zones with moderate fertility because brown top is our invasion pest weed grass and you're better off having cocksfoot every day.
Juddy Yeah I think probably the word that would describe what you've just said is resilience. Where you've got the ability for things to go brown having cocksfoot in your mix is always going to be useful because we know that it is a very much a persistent plant under some of those so I like that. So for both sheep and beef and we've got it is that base in terms of having something that's going to be there when maybe ryegrass is coming under a little bit of pressure, do you think there's a role for it in dairy?
Al Yes, I do. So we just got to always remember we're in a very diverse dairy landscape today. You know, we've got natural rainfall environments throughout the country. And if you look at the south of New Zealand, those natural rainfall come with lower temperatures. Traditionally, not in the summer of 2020 to 2021, 22. It's quite hot down in Southland, but in general terms it's natural rainfall, colder temperatures and natural ryegrass world. But they're asking different questions of themselves down there now too, you know, if they start to get drier and they start to get warmer, how do you keep a grass cover in an environment where you may find your summer dry period goes from being just two weeks or four weeks to 6 to 8 weeks, in that sort of landscape. And cocksfoots can actually be quite a sustainable, high performance species through that time. Also, it can be used as a carried feed into the wintering phase in that southern landscape. If you come to dairy under irrigation, the answer to that is actually it is much a secondary species to ryegrass. The ryegrasses quality and ability to grow pretty much in irrigated soils is pretty amazing. And it's not until you get at temperatures in the thirties that you would ever consider another species and you are likely in an irrigated dairy to consider fescue before cocksfoot. However, in an irrigated dairy in a dry environment, you sometimes find the outside of pivets, also pods or post irrigation. You might find these big areas of inefficient irrigation or no irrigation on the outside the pivots. Now in that landscape are ryegrass cockfoot mix would work extremely well and make a functional use of not insignificant amounts of land on the outskirts of those irrigation areas. And those small areas of cocksfoot do not impact that, they don't crash quality of the total sward or the total intake across the whole paddock. And in fact, you might find at certain times of the year cows actively go seeking it to get that balance of fibre and and quality, the style of fibre that particularly fibre that the vegetative cocksfoot plant may provide, for example, in the early spring period when ryegrass quality is quite off the chart. Cocksfoot would create a really strong balance in their diet to that.
Juddy Yeah, and I think that's exactly right in terms of there is a role but actually identifying in a dairy system exactly where that fits, I don't think going to replace ryegrass, for example, but it does have a quite a good fit.
Al It certainly does fit in dryland dairy, but in hotter environments like the northern part of New Zealand it does fit there. There's other things that come into play.
Juddy Then a farm system that's dear to my mind, do we see a role for cocksfoot in a deer system.
Al Look straight up. Not really, but a deer system is made up of stags, hinds and wieners. But you can't ignore the fact that you know, the biggest scope of the breeding farms. Hinds can be integrated with cattle and are also on hillsides and hill country. Now broadcast cocksfoot into those landscapes does improve feed supply and feed cycles. And there's no doubt that using cocksfoot and sort of for example the broadacre environments that hinds can be found in, particularly on hills is really valid because you have quite significant cattle systems that integrate with them. On the flats, far less so they are quite a selective animal and cocksfoot is right at the bottom of their preference.
Juddy Yeah, I think one of the key things I think was you've mentioned two things which I think are really key. One is integration of cattle, so you can clean that up.
Al Just for cattle farming, full stop. You know, you got cows in your system.
Juddy Yeah. And so on the hill when you can imagine coming into that fawning period, if you've got something that can hold relatively large covers up there, great place for hinds to hide fawns, but the ability to clean it up with cattle at a later stage.
Al As part of your farm business.
Juddy As part of you farmer business.
Al Doing multiple jobs on the same landscape.
Juddy Particularly where you've got hill country, which is not summer safe. And of that lower fertility, I think it's got a real niche there.
Al So I'll just summarise very quickly actually no for cocksfoot with deer. But it doesn't mean to say it's no in deer environments, if you've got a large cattle policy.
Al Because you've got to feed both not just deer.
Juddy That's right and I think the ability to create fawning cover I think is also really a very useful part of that. Do you think, we've covered a little bit of this, but what do you reckon the major pests of cocksfoot are do they have any?
Al Glycinate is a pretty significant pest of cocksfoot but every now and then, a person actually gets sick of just how clumpy the world of cocksfoot can be. Are people, we didn't touch on this earlier, really important, a lot of people believe modern cocksfoots don't clump. That is not correct. All cocksfoots clump when they are given space to grow by themselves, they form a crown. And that crown is really significant and can from a clump. It can form different sized clumps based on the genetics. But if it doesn't form a clump, it's not cocksfoot because that's actually one of its true defence mechanisms. And we're going to discuss this with the actual pests, but quite regularly, if people work with on particularly on flat paddocks work with cocksfoot but on a more lax system it can get very clumpy. And as you drive particularly motorbikes but also rattly old trucks across those sort of paddocks, it doesn't take much for a few individuals to get sick of it and then pull the trigger on glycinate is probably one of the bigger ways of taking cocksfoot out of the landscape. As far as pests go, probably starting at the north of New Zealand, it does not have a natural endophyte, so it relies on a genuinely coarse root structure and a crown. That crown, which is the clump, is actually a poor important mechanism for plant survival. Now, as in the north, the single biggest pasture pest for it is actually African black beetle. And it has a quite aggressive, significant scarab that has a very large and quite aggressive larvae underground. And now this will chisel out a cocksfoot but completely take it right out. The key to the cocksfoot is that it will regularly get pulled out of the ground and particularly light, free draining soil because it will have nothing holding it in the ground. They'll chisel out the base of the clump as well. The difference, though, with cockfoot for most other species, that will be the end of all other species. They will just disintegrate, the crowns will separate, and they'll just literally die. But with cocksfoot because of this clump, it has the ability, even if the whole plant is brown, that when moist conditions occur in autumn and if the growing conditions are well, that crown will actually activate from dormant nodes, particularly around those throughout the clump, and it will actually reroute itself to the ground. And as long as it's not pulled out on the next grazing round and if you could roll it, it would even be better. That plant will re-establish itself and within 6 to 8 months you wouldn't even know it had been pulled out. So I would never say, it's only tolerant and in the north it's not. Now you come down into the other parts of the country. The other big pasture pest is New Zealand native grass grub, much smaller version of African black beetle. But actually its populations are so large it can decimate it. So cocksfoot is one of the last species to be taken out. It's only tolerant. It will eventually be chiselled out, just like I describe with black beetle. Black beetle do it much more successfully with a smaller number of larvae. Grass grub actually needs lots and lots of larve to pull out a cocksfoot plant. And the same scenario can occur, it can re-establish itself, it can reroute back into the ground from this really strong, stable crown if it's in contact with the soil. Argentine stem weevil in New Zealand is a pasture pest, it can impact cocksfoot but I would suggest mostly as a seedling, not so much as an established plant. It's actually a little bit too big, and those crowns are a little bit too fully established to allow stem weevil to wipe it out as an adult, fully established cocksfoot plant. But for the first 6 to 8 months, cocksfoot can be vulnerable because it's only often got two or three or four tillers during the establishment phase.
Juddy Because it is one of the more slow to establish species.
Al Correct. And the last New Zealand pest of really big significance in New Zealand is porina. And the key is just like it's not a perfect species for animals from a quality, it's not a perfect species for porina either and they don't like it relatively speaking. So they again will eat out everything else around it and cocksfoot will be very much the last on their menu.
Juddy In terms of just tell me about the ability to stand up to pugging and wet soils is that a challenge for cocksfoot?
Al Well, mainly because you mentioned wet soils and it's a plant of free draining conditions. So we'll put cocksfoot in many landscapes for many roles. Once you start thinking about it, some people will be attracted to the fact it's got this crown. It's pretty resilient and we'll put it in a number of different environments because of that. Now there's a big world of, you know, grass wintering that we're slowly grappling with in New Zealand to understand a bit better. Cocksfoot has a big role to play in that. It's mainly because it can create large amounts of cover and from deferred feed from late summer through into winter. And in that state, it's pretty resilient because it keeps the hooves of animals above the ground. However, because it's spatial, and as it gets older, it is still quite clumped. You know, cattle can still damage between the crowns and it doesn't like wet feet and it doesn't like those situations a lot. And what you will tend to find is the soil structure will still be damaged between the crowns. And because it's not a solid forming plant, it's like I say, a crown forming plant. And so it can be damaged during those phases.
Juddy Right. Listen, I've really enjoyed this chat about cocksfoot, but I'm actually off to straighten me hair so I look like you.
Al Oh, look. Well, before you go Glenn and work on your hairdo, we should just summarise cocksfoot it has had a long history. And to be fair, it's been a little bit maligned by a decade's worth of research on one stock class and the absence of its place in the greater farming system. And I feel it's important to acknowledge that literally all research done on cocksfoot through the eighties and nineties were focussed on lamb live weight gains. We have many wonderful species for lamb live weight gain and using cocksfoot as part of those research programmes have highlighted that it's not all about quality. But it's ignored, cocksfoot really is a major solution for the persistence element of our pastures and our landscape and our rotations. So. In summary, you know, it's not a species for outright liveweight gain in summer. It fits, though, in an environment that's moving more towards a cattle policy fits very strongly. It is also a species that can compete with brown top. And therefore, if your environment means that your pasture persistences moves from your productive species to brown top, you should consider putting cocksfoot in your mixes. Because when you finish with cocksfoot, not brown top, at least you have a productive plant that gives you options. We've discussed legumes because nitrogen and protein are a major part of keeping it both productive but also palatable and provide an element of performance. And those legumes that fit most with cocksfoot based pastures lucerne, red clover and subterranean clover in the warmer, drier environments. I always put white clover in because what happens if you get rain its a magnificent species and can reseed. Chicory also fits very well with cocksfoot base pasture and I think I did summarise it in more than one moment through the podcast is that personally you can sow these grass pastures predominantly with cocksfoot and the species I've just described but I also personally recommend considering it making it an element of your perennial ryegrass selection based on your landscape choices, recognising that you could transition from making money out of ryegrass for a period of time. But your persistent element of your pasture is it transitioning to a cocksfoot base pasture at the very end. So that would be some of my take home messages Glenn, you can go and find a mirror and sort that hairdo out.
Juddy Great summary Allister, catch you later.