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Story: Pastures

All pastures might just look like grassy paddocks to us, but sheep and cows are more discerning. They can tell that pastures are actually made up of many different plants, some of which are more palatable than others. Pastures can include different types of grasses, legumes and herbs, which are chosen to suit the conditions and livestock.

Story by Deric Charlton
Main image: Grazing dairy cattle

Story Summary

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What is pasture?

Pastures are the fields on farms where animals feed. Grasses aren’t the only plants in pastures – there are many other kinds of plants that livestock eat. Farmers choose the plants depending on what kind of animal will be eating it, or whether it is a wet or dry area.

Making pastures in New Zealand

When New Zealand was settled by Europeans, they grazed sheep on the tussock grasslands. Other areas were covered in forest, which settlers sometimes burnt to clear land for farming. They planted different kinds of grass and clover that they brought from England. Very soon, much of New Zealand was covered in pasture.

Grasses

We usually think of farm animals eating grass, which is the most common kind of plant in pastures. Most grass species were introduced from overseas, including:

  • perennial ryegrass
  • cocksfoot
  • tall fescue
  • prairie grass
  • timothy
  • Yorkshire fog
  • browntop
  • kikuyu.

New Zealand also has some native grasses, like tussock, which you’ll most often see in South Island high country.

Clover and other legumes

Legumes are a plant that can help other plants grow better, because they can turn nitrogen from the air in the soil into a form that other plants can use.

Clovers are the most common legumes in pastures. The main kinds are:

  • white clover
  • red clover
  • subterranean clover, which pushes its own seed underground.

Two other legumes that farm animals like to eat are lucerne and lotus.

Herbs, shrubs and trees

Sometimes farm animals eat herbs, like chicory and plantain, or leaves of willows or poplar trees. Animals like the taste and the plants contain nutrients that are good for their health.

How to cite this page:

Deric Charlton, 'Pastures', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/pastures (accessed 24 June 2017)

Story by Deric Charlton, published 24 Nov 2008