Livestock like, and benefit from, eating herbs, so New Zealand pasture-plant breeders have selected improved types of at least two common perennial herbs for grazing.
This large-leafed, succulent herb looks like a weed but gives up to 18 tonnes of high-quality dry matter per hectare from spring through to late autumn (other species may grow only 12–15 tonnes per hectare). Chicory (Cichorium intybus) is very acceptable to all livestock.
It grows best on fertile, free-draining soils and will persist for several years. Chicory’s forage is digested more rapidly than ryegrass and white clover pasture, and this may account for the fast growth rates of animals grazing chicory.
Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) grows well in many pasture situations. This flatweed has been developed into erect-growing types that are highly palatable to animals. It establishes itself rapidly, is very drought- and pest-tolerant and has a high mineral content, especially copper and selenium.
Plantain tolerates summer heat and is particularly valuable during summer in warmer regions. It can be included in many pasture mixtures. Plantain content rarely exceeds 20% of the pasture, though in warmer regions it may reach 50% or more.
Keep off the grass
Some small lawns are not grass – they are planted in other species such as cotula or dichondra. These are prostrate perennial herbaceous plants, with creeping stems and small roundish leaves, which take root readily at the leaf nodes and form a compact surface when regularly mown. Most bowling greens have a cotula cover.
Trees and shrubs
Trees and shrubs can provide excellent livestock fodder during dry weather, when pastures brown off. Many farms have willows and poplars growing for erosion control or as shelter belts, and their prunings can provide inexpensive supplementary feed containing condensed tannins and other beneficial nutrients.
In drought conditions, feeding ewes with tree fodder for seven weeks prior to mating in February to March maintains the lamb weights and the number of lambs per ewe at non-drought levels.