Pasture Management

Learn more about pasture management with ACS. Pastures are critical to many types of farms. Farmers have been known to turn unprofitable farms into commercial successes by simply improving pasture.

Course Code: BAG212
Fee Code: S2
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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Improve pasture and make a farm more productive

Pastures are critical to many types of farms. Farmers have been known to turn unprofitable farms into commercial successes by simply improving pasture. Whether dealing with small or large properties, pasture management is an important part of many types of farm enterprises. This course is designed to be useful to those already managing existing pastures and those who wish to establish successful new pastures.

Every livestock farmer is first and foremost a pasture farmer.
They may make use of the natural grasses or he may improve his pastures by planting special grasses or legumes. A good farmer recognises the different grasses and legumes, and understands how to get the best out of them. He will be able to distinguish between desirable and undesirable plants and he will know the grazing habits of his stock.

Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Introduction to Pastures
    • Pasture Improvement
    • Choosing a Pasture Mix
    • Seed Coating
    • Variety Selection
    • Sustainability
    • Definitions
  2. The Pasture Plant
    • Grasses
    • The grass plant
    • Growth and development
    • Phases of development
    • Annual and perennial grasses
    • Carbohydrate sinks
    • The physiology of grasses
    • The structure of grasses
    • Growth habits
    • Legumes
  3. Pasture Varieties
    • Introduction to common pasture grasses
    • Identifying grasses
    • Legumes
    • The Importance of Legumes in Pasture
    • Nitrogen Fixation in Legumes
    • The Rhizobium bacteria
    • Common legumes
    • Grasses to Grow With Clovers
  4. Site Considerations
    • Managing pastures
    • Choosing the Correct Site for a Pasture
    • Choosing the correct seed mix
    • Seed quality
  5. Establishing New Pastures
    • Preparation of the land for pasture
    • Prepared seedbed
    • Sowing
    • Germination
    • Direct drilling
    • Weed control
    • Seeders
    • Grazing new pastures
  6. Managing Existing Pastures
    • Native Grasses versus Pasture
    • Carrying Capacity of Native Grasses
    • Stocking Rate of Native Grass Areas
    • The Establishment of the Native Grasslands
    • The developing grasslands
    • How grasslands deteriorate
    • Factors promoting succession or retrogression
    • Limiting factors and terminal plant communities
    • Allogenic Factors
    • Autogenic Factors
    • Rests To Promote Rapid Growth
    • Rests to change the composition of the community
    • Rests designed to eliminate or control bush encroachment
    • Rests to accumulate grazing material
    • Rests to provide out of season fodder
    • Physiological aspects
  7. Managing Stock on Pasture
    • Factors affecting food intake by animals
    • Animal factors
    • Feed factors
    • Grazing factors
    • Grazing behaviour
    • Complementary Grazing
    • Rank Order of Dominance
    • Selective Grazing
    • Ruminant Time
    • Herd group behaviour
    • Grazing Time
    • Pasture management principles - rest, grazing period, stocking, carrying capacity
    • Equal Utilisation or the Removal of the Top Hamper, paddock size, number in herd etc
    • Grassland management principles - Split - season Systems, Continuous Light Stocking, One Herd, Four Paddock System, Intensive systems etc
    • Horse pastures
    • Food trees and shrubs
  8. Pasture Management Work Tasks
    • Fertilizer
    • Pest and weed control
    • Biological control
    • Advantages of Biological Methods
    • Disadvantages of Biological Methods
    • Irrigation
    • Fallowing
    • Cultivation
    • Pasture renovation
    • Managing pasture after drought
    • Managing pasture after fire

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Determine criteria for selecting appropriate varieties of plants for a pasture.
  • Identify characteristics of a pasture plant which are relevant to both making an identification, and to considering its value as a pasture species.
  • Evaluate the potential of given sites for pasture development programs.
  • Explain the procedures used in managing the establishment of pasture.
  • Explain the techniques used in managing pasture which is already been established
  • Assess the commercial and nutritional value of pasture species in the context of farm.
  • animal feed, and determine appropriate ways of managing stock.
  • Develop an appropriate work program for the management of a pasture by a farmer.

What You Will Do

  • Prepare a catalogued resource collection of items including pamphlets, brochures and contact addresses for information relevant to pasture varieties.
  • List factors that affect the choice of seed mix for a pasture.
  • Categorise different pasture seed mixes according to application, detailing the components of each mix together, commenting on appropriate applications for that mix.
  • Explain the benefits of seed coating for pasture establishment.
  • Label parts of a grass plants on unlabelled diagrams
  • Distinguish between different clover and medic species using illustrations
  • List different pasture plant varieties suited to your locality, including:
    • grasses
    • legumes
    • other fodder plants
  • Identify different species of plants growing in an established pasture in your locality, by labelling a pressed specimen of each.
  • Submit samples of seeds you identified
  • What type of pasture is inoculated, and why?
  • Give and explain one example of why a dairy cow might perform differently when grazed on different types of pasture species?
  • Compare samples of different pasture seed mixes.
  • List different species which would be appropriate to grow in each of the following situations:
    • Dairy cattle on fertile, moist soil in your locality.
    • Beef steers on poorer soils in your region.
    • Horses for a horse riding school in your locality.
  • List factors affecting the suitability of a site for pasture.
  • Assess climatic and edaphic data for a specific pasture site, including:
    • rainfall
    • temperature
    • topography
    • soil type
  • Compare the appropriateness of different soil cultivation techniques for pasture establishment on a specified site in your locality.
  • Explain weed control methods during pasture establishment on a specified site.
  • Explain grazing practices appropriate to new pasture on a specified site.
  • Establish production targets for a specified pasture, explaining how those targets are determined.
  • Select suitable machinery for pasture management including establishment and harvest, explaining the selection.
  • Explain the steps involved in preparation of a specified area land for sowing pasture.
  • Write a plan for the establishment of new pasture on a specified site, which lists all important tasks in chronological order.
  • Explain factors causing change in the nature of established pasture.
  • Compare improved pasture with native pasture, with respect to:
    • species present
    • weeds
    • maintenance requirements
  • List characteristics of different types of pasture, including:
    • sweet
    • sour
    • mixed
  • Determine sustainable stocking rates of a specified type of animal for different pastures.
  • Specify the pastures and the animals.
  • Analyse the food value of different pastures.
  • Compare the grazing behaviour of different farm animals.
  • Define the concept of palatability of a specific pasture
  • Determine grazing capacity of a specified paddock.
  • Specify the crop and all other variables.
  • Evaluate the production performance of two different specified pastures.
  • Identify different weeds that are significant problems in pasture
  • Explain methods of weed control in a specific established pasture.
  • Explain the affect of fire on a specific pasture.
  • Explain the affect of different soil management practices on pasture, including:
    • fertilising
    • pest control
    • watering
    • cultivation
    • fallowing
  • Quantify materials and supply requirements for pasture management.
  • List facilities required for the handling and storage of materials and supplies.
  • List minimum machinery required for the management of a specified site.
  • Develop management plan for pasture in a specified situation, including a program of tasks to be carried out over a 12 month period.
  • Explain industry research techniques and develop a conclusion.

Improve Your Pasture Management Skills

Every livestock farmer is first and foremost a pasture farmer. He or she may make use of the natural grasses or he/she may improve his pastures by planting special grasses. A good farmer recognises the different grasses and understands how to get the best out of them. He will be able to distinguish between desirable and undesirable plants and he will know the grazing habits of his stock.

Understanding and managing pasture is highly complex, because there are so many parts to it, and each of these parts constantly change. For example, there are many varieties of plants used for grazing in any one area. Each plant has its own rhythm and will react differently to environmental conditions and treatment.

Different stock graze in a variety of ways. Sheep graze close but cannot handle long grass; goats browse on bushes while cattle eat long grass and are not as fussy as sheep.

Natural pasture is also constantly changing and developing according to the environment and number and types of animals that graze it. The changes can be good or bad. They are not always noticeable as they can take place very slowly. There is no doubt that man and animals have the ability to make rapid and bad changes to our native pastures.

A further problem is that farmers rarely have one sort of pasture. Most farms will have some natural pasture and some improved pastures. The natural pasture is often a mix of grasses with some grasses suiting one type of animal and others that suit a different type of stock. The improved pastures on a farm are specially planted to provide grazing at various times of the year and so need quite different management.

By understanding all the different parts that affect grassland, a farmer can begin to effectively manage his most important resource - his grazing.


Choosing a Pasture

Pastures are all different. They differ in terms of both the mix of plants which they are composed of, and in the way those plants grow (ie. general plant health and vigour).

For effective grazing, the pasture needs to match its use: the number and type of animals being grazed should be appropriate.

Seed Coating

A new development available to farmers is coated seed. Grass seeds face many hazards before and during germination. They are light and can be blown away. They need precise amounts of moisture and nutrients to germinate and grow. If the seed is a legume, it requires a specific type of Rhizobium bacteria to enable it to fix nitrogen.

(Note: Fixing nitrogen is a term used to describe a process by which bacteria living on the roots of these legumes, extract nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form which is able to be used by plants).

A coating around the seed affords a great deal of protection at no extra cost. The coat protects the seed from stresses like acid or infertile soil, sun, wind and low moisture. Rodents and birds avoid coated seed. The coat can include a pesticide if necessary.

Coated seed flows easily making sowing by machine smoother. Even the light, woolly seeds like "Digit Grass" are more evenly distributed when coated. The coating makes all the seeds the same weight and size for precision drilling.



The growth and development of the grass plant can be divided into three phases:

Phase 1

The seedling is very small during this phase. It is using the maximum amount of light in order to produce carbohydrates. The small plantlet forms carbohydrates by photosynthesis. The carbohydrates are required for growth and development (particularly of the root system). Root development is extremely important to ensure the grass plant will receive the maximum amount of moisture and nutrients from the soil.

During Phase 1, the seedling is particularly sensitive to bad management by overgrazing. The tiny plant can be completely wiped out by the action of hooves and teeth. This phase begins at the early part of the growing season (the beginning of summer). It is important, if not essential, that paddocks have a substantial rest at this time to allow the successful establishment of these small grasses.

Phase 2

This is the vegetative stage when a vast amount of leafy material is produced. This is the phase of maximum production so should be the stage of maximum utilisation of the grazing.

The most important rule of native or natural pasture management is this:


If this rule is applied whenever animals graze a particular paddock progress will be made in maintaining and regaining the vigour of the piece of grass. Many farmers misguidedly believe that this forces the stock to level the paddock and so remove the long tuft like grass that is not productive. This thinking is misguided.

Firstly, stock that are fussy will not touch the long, tuft grass preferring instead to graze to the last any sweeter more palatable vegetation (which will include the vulnerable new shoots). This puts an enormous strain on the more desirable grass which, in time, will become exhausted and die out.

Secondly, it is vitally important to leave a certain amount of leaf canopy remains after each period of grazing. This enables plants to recover quickly from that grazing. The leaf is essential for the plant to form more carbohydrates to replace those that were grazed off.

If a farmer wants to level the grazing he should do this mechanically with mower rather than have it grazed down severely. The "graze half,leave half" rule applies as much to cutting. If a plant is severely cut or grazed, the roots will stop growing within twenty four hours. If 50% of the leaves are removed, the roots will continue to grow but at a slower rate. Removal of more than 50% of the leaves may stop root growth for three to eight days. The roots start dying back from their tips above 80% defoliation.

Phase 3

This is the reproductive phase which is essential for the development and release of the seed. Seeds are necessary for the establishment and maintenance of pasture. The farmer will want to encourage the reproduction of the more desirable grass species. The farmer will also want to ensure good cover and good herbage production which will allow him/her to stock the land well.

These three phases coincide with the summer period from early November through to March or April as shown in table 1.

Table 1: The times of the phases of grass growth and development.

Phase       Month 
 1  November and December
 2 January and early February
3 late February and early March

It is important to be aware of the times of the phases so that essential rest periods can be built into the grazing management program. This will ensure that there is no mismanagement of the grass.



Pasture land may appear relatively uncomplicated, but in reality most pastures are extremely complicated ecosystems; and understanding them is fundamental to proper management of most types of farm animals.

This course builds your knowledge to choose the most appropriate plant species for a pasture, to suit the property and the environment, and optimise the needs of the animals being grazed. As you move through this course your understanding of pasture ecosystems will grow, and you will become increasingly aware of what might be done to improve pasture, and hence improve the health, well being and productivity of animals grazing on it.

After this course you will have enhanced your capacity to work in a wide range of agricultural jobs, including:

  • Farm Manager
  • Farm Hand
  • Agricultural Consultant
  • Farm Supplies Manager/ Pasture Seed Company Officer
  • Agricultural Researcher, Writer, Broadcaster
  • Agriculture Teacher
  • Produce or Land Agent

Principal of ACS Distance Education, John Mason, is fellow of the CIH.
Principal of ACS Distance Education, John Mason, is fellow of the CIH.
ACS Global Partner - Affiliated with colleges in seven countries around the world.
ACS Global Partner - Affiliated with colleges in seven countries around the world.
Since 1999 ACS has been a recognised member of IARC (International Approval and Registration Centre). A non-profit quality management organisation servicing education.
Since 1999 ACS has been a recognised member of IARC (International Approval and Registration Centre). A non-profit quality management organisation servicing education.
ACS is a Member of the Permaculture Association (membership number 14088).
ACS is a Member of the Permaculture Association (membership number 14088).
ACS is a Silver Sponsor of the AIH; and students studying designated courses are given free student membership. ACS and it's principal have had an association with AIH since the 1980's
ACS is a Silver Sponsor of the AIH; and students studying designated courses are given free student membership. ACS and it's principal have had an association with AIH since the 1980's
ACS is an organisational member of the Future Farmers Network.
ACS is an organisational member of the Future Farmers Network.
Our Principal John Mason, was awarded a fellowship by the Australian Institute of Horticulture in 2010
Our Principal John Mason, was awarded a fellowship by the Australian Institute of Horticulture in 2010
UK Register of Learning Providers, UK PRN10000112
UK Register of Learning Providers, UK PRN10000112

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Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

Cheryl Wilson

Cheryl has spent two decades working in agriculture, equine and education industries, across England, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand. She graduated with a B.Sc.(Hons), HND Horse Mgt, C&G Teaching Cert.
For several years, Cheryl managed the distance education courses for Warwickshire College (a large UK government institution), out of their Moreton Morrell campus. In more recent years, she has co authored several books including titles on Horse Care, Dog Care and Poultry. Along with this solid background in edication, she brings a wealth of practical experience, having held positions including: Sports Horse Stud Groom, Stable Manager, Yard Manager, Equine industrial Training Manager, FE Distance Learning Manager

Marius Erasmus

Subsequent to completing a BSc (Agric) degree in animal science, Marius completed an honours degree in wildlife management, and a masters degree in production animal physiology. Following the Masters degree, he has worked for 9 years in the UK, and South Africa in wildlife management, dairy, beef and poultry farming.

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