Pasture Plants

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We feature a couple of suggested organic pasture mixes at the bottom of this page, that are ryegrass free. However, we recommend you read the full article so you make an informed choice when selecting grasses and other plants to reseed your pasture. Ryegrass is considered the pasture of choice for most farming applications in New Zealand – but  this entrenched opinion has been proven to be incorrect for alpacas! Ryegrass is high in protein, which is great for fattening lamb and beef, but you don’t want fat alpacas! Also, it is well known that too much protein in alpaca diets will cause the fleece to grow more coarsely (higher micron), and this lowers its value.
ryegrassryegrass seeds
In addition, ryegrass has a natural predator, the Argentinian weevil, which feeds on the roots of the grass, resulting in plant death and the appearance of bald spots in pasture. Naturally, most farmers consider this undesirable! To combat the weevil, the traditional approach has been to add an endophyte to ryegrass seed which keeps the weevil under control. This endophyte lives at the base of the plant, however, in periods of rapid grass growth (Spring, Autumn) it is dragged up the grass stem and is found well above earth level. When ingested by stock, this endophyte gives off a toxin that attacks the animals neurological (nervous) system, giving rise to muscular tremors that range from mild (head wobbles), to severe (prone to falling over). This syndrome is known as “ryegrass staggers” and is an unpleasant to dangerous condition for your alpacas, or any affected animal. For more information on ryegrass staggers, and how to care for an afflicted animal see our Ryegrass Staggers article. Note: Ryegrass staggers are common to all livestock species, not just alpacas.

In recent years, an endophyte-free form of ryegrass that is naturally resistant to the Argentinian weevil has been developed, and while this form presents no dangers to your alpaca, it is still not a desirable feed type. Hearsay evidence also says that when irrigated, this type of ryegrass can give your alpaca scours (diarrhoea).

The chances are high that if you own land that is, or has been used, for grazing traditional stock units in NZ, it will have at some time been sown with ryegrass. It makes sense if you own alpacas (or any livestock), then, to re-sow with other grass mixes. If you have a larger property, or cost is a consideration, then at least re-grass one or two paddocks (or more) so you have somewhere safe to graze your alpacas and other animals at danger periods – and don’t forget drought may also create a danger period as the animals graze closer to the dirt line than normal. The best time for re-sowing pasture is March or April. You will need to kill the existing ryegrass – there are specialist sprays designed to kill grass only, which will leave desirable plants alive. We chose to use a general weedspray (glycophosphate) as our pasture not only had ryegrass but some undesirable weeds (dock and buttercup) as well. Your Agricultural Retailer should be able to advise you on the best spray to use. Want to identify ryegrass? – click here and here

One of the problems of determining a good grass mix for alpacas is the lack of scientific data regarding their nutritional requirements. As alpacas become more popular, studies will no doubt be carried out to give us an optimum pasture mix, but until then, it can be a bit of a shot in the dark. There are websites which are devoted to the subject of pasture grasses, and it is well worth while to check these out (we have excellent sites listed in our “Links” page).

When deciding how to grass your pasture, remember alpacas are browsers, rather than grazers, and a variety of plant types is desirable, rather than solely grass. Your seed merchant should be able to advise you on grass types (remember you want grass that is not high in protein) and also on other common plants such as clovers. The use of organic seed mixes means your plants will benefit both your soil and be weed-resistant as well as providing nourishment for your alpacas.

Pasture “Recipes”

The following recipes are suitable for most parts of New Zealand. However, if you live in an area of New Zealand, or overseas, that is prone to specific climatic conditons (eg, drought, excessive rainfall, snow, high altitude) you should confer with your local seed merchants, who should be able to advise on different cultivars that may be more suitable in your location.

Organic Pasture Mix

The following pasture mix was presented by David Musgrove at the NZ Alpaca Conference 2007 as a mix suitable for organic farms. It includes species that will help eradicate weeds and thistles, and is of course, eminently suitable even if you are not an organic farm! We now have an outstanding article by David available which includes descriptions and benefits of recommended plants – click here if you would like to read this. A link to this article is also available on our links page.

Mix given is in kg/hectare

Please note: New cultivars (varieties) of plants are constantly being developed, and older varieties may cease to be available as they are replaced with more modern, better performing cultivars. If any of the named cultivars in the following seed mix are unavailable, discuss with your seed merchant or farm supplies shop which cultivars have replaced them, and replace the obsolete variety with the new.

5 kg Gala Grazing Brome
2 kg Viking Timothy
8 kg Easton tall Fescue
5 kg Savvy cocksfoot
3 kg maru phalaris
6 kg WL363 lucerne
10 kg Sensation red clover
12 kg Tahora white clover
1 kg Choice chicory
5 kg Tonic Plantain

Maru phalaris competes with undesirable barley grass, which is really hard to get rid of by traditional means. However, maru phalaris can cause a severe form of staggers, so you may want to omit this if you don’t have a problem with barley grass.

Chicory, if uneaten bolts away to seed, and in the process, the stems become woody and inedible. However, chicory competes with californian thistle and docks, so if you have a problem with these weeds, chicory should be included despite its drawbacks.

Elise Atkinson, of Federated Llamas, in her handbook “Llama:Alpaca General Husbandry” suggests a pasture mix she has found successful, and we largely took her advice when re-sowing “The Alpaca Place” in our original location in Greytown. Elise has been farming Llamas and Alpacas since about 1990, and has a wealth of practical knowledge about camelid farming.

Elise’s pasture mix is as follows:

  • 1 kg “Kara” cocksfoot (for roughage)
  • 9 kg “advanced” tall fescue
  • 1 kg “Viking” timothy
  • ½ kg “lancelot” plantain (good winter growth)
  • ½ kg “tonic” plantain (for nutrition and medicinal purposes)
  • 1 kg yarrow (for good health maintenance)
  • 2 kg colensor
  • 1 kg “prestige” clover
  • 1 kg “sustain” clover
  • 1 kg chicory (puna)
  • Mints ( a couple of handfuls)

Please note: New cultivars (varieties) of plants are constantly being developed, and older varieties may cease to be available as they are replaced with more modern, better performing cultivars. If any of the named cultivars in the above seed mix are unavailable, discuss with your seed merchant or farm supplies shop which cultivars have replaced them, and replace the obsolete variety with the new.

Dandelion (good for liver, and vitamin A&C) This mix should be sufficient for approximately 1 ½ acres (0.6 hectares) if oversown(spread on top of the soil, rather than planted). You can also add other herbs such as thyme and fennel. We tried several Seed Merchants before we found one who was prepared to supply a mix of small quantities, but did find one, so don’t be shy about asking around.

Recent research has shown it may be better not to mix pasture seeds but rather to sow seeds so that plants of one type occur in patches rather than intermixed. Try it!

We couldn’t buy yarrow or dandelion – these are such common plants that they will quickly re-sow themselves, or you can harvest your own seeds! We didn’t add mint, as our experience was that our alpacas didn’t eat mint.