Pastures are fields growing plants for grazing animals. New Zealand farmers have developed systems for efficiently grazing large numbers of animals in open pastures all year round. Pasture is cost-effective feed, but it has to be of good quality to produce economically worthwhile quantities of milk, meat or wool from livestock.
Grass, the most common pasture plant, is familiar to most people, who come into contact with it when mowing lawns, playing sports, or pulling weeds out of their gardens.
There are many varieties of grass. They have a wide range of sizes and growth rates, and can grow in different situations. Weed grasses that invade gardens are mainly annual species, which germinate from seed each year. If grasses are left to go to seed, the seeds may survive for many years in the soil, providing a continuing source of new plants.
Lawn grasses, and those on golf courses and sports fields, usually have fine leaves, grow along the ground, and have an ability to withstand trampling. The tall unmown or ungrazed grasses along roadsides are generally broadleaf types, with upright, rapid growth, which can successfully compete with other species. These are usually a mix of weed grasses and those from adjacent farm pastures.
Other pasture plants
Pastures are not just grass; they are usually sown as a mixture of one or more grasses, and one or more legume species, such as clover. Some herbs may also be included. However, pastures usually end up with some weeds in them as well.
A farmer aims to sow the species mix that will grow the best, and that stock will like to eat. Pasture plants generally must be able to regrow quickly after they have been defoliated by cutting or grazing, several times per year.
All pasture plants that are eaten by grazing animals are collectively described as forage plants.