A study of the mineral content and feeding value of natural pastures in the Union of South Africa. IV. The influence of season and frequency of cutting on the yield, persistency and chemical composition of grass species

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 15
  • SDG 13
  • SDG 2
  • Abstract:

    The investigation which has been dealt with in this paper is a continuation of earlier work carried out in 1932 on species of grasses grown on separate plots and exposed to the same climatic conditions while being subjected to the following system of cutting: A portion of each plot was cut at monthly intervals, another portion of the plot was cut at two-monthly intervals, a third portion at three-monthly intervals, and so on, up to twelve months, when a sample of twelve months’ growth was taken off each plot. The grass resulting from each cutting was weighed when air-dry and sampled for analytical purposes. The constituents determined were crude protein, crude fibre, phosphorus, calcium, potassium, magnesium, sodium, and chlorine, while the determination of soluble or silica-free ash was included towards the end of the investigation. Detailed data relating to all the cuts obtained from individual species from February, 1933, to February, 1934, are tabulated in an appendix. Average values for all the species combined have been chosen as a basis for discussion. (1) Grasses cut at monthly intervals are highest in percentage phosphorus and crude protein and lowest in percentage crude fibre. With decreased frequency of cutting the crude fibre content rises to a maximum at maturity, while the phosphorus and crude protein contents drop markedly to minima in the old mature herbage cut prior to the commencement of new growth in the following season. (2) The different frequencies of cutting do not appreciably influence the lime and magnesia contents of the herbage. (3) Pure species grown on the same soil and exposed to the same climatic conditions show appreciable differences in mineral and protein content when harvested after definite intervals, e.g. one month. (4) Fluctuations in the chemical composition of species cut at, say, monthly intervals during the growing season are indicated. These variations are attributed mainly to the stage of growth attained by the species and to the rainfall in so far as it influences the stage of growth. (5) Rainfall is the most important factor governing the yield from monthly cuts. (6) During dry seasons the phosphorus content of herbage cut at monthly intervals tends to be low. At the same time the percentage lime is high. The crude protein content does not appear to be adversely affected by drought. (7) The percentage of mineral constituents and crude protein are low and crude fibre high during seasons of plentiful rain. (8) Cutting at monthly intervals impairs the persistency of most species, Pennisetum ciliare and Cynodon dactylon being the only grasses not visibly affected by the severe treatment. (9) The highest yield of dry matter is obtained from pasture species by cutting at two-monthly intervals during the growing season. The evidence suggests that while the yield from fewer cuts or a single harvest may not be much smaller the herbage will definitely be of lower nutritive value. (10) The aggregate production of crude protein and phosphate is highest by cutting at two-monthly intervals. (11) The difference in nutritive value between herbage cut at monthly and two-monthly intervals becomes insignificant during seasons of dry weather conditions. (12) The date on which a system of cutting is initiated is found to exercise a determining influence on the productiveness of herbage plants in the course of the growing season. The production of dry matter seems to be depressed by a first cut during the period when active growth commences. (13) The practical suggestion which is a corollary to this investigation is that an attempt should be made to prevent natural pastures from growing undisturbed during the entire season if economic utilization of such pasture is to be made. Provided the effects of periodic cutting are at all comparable with grazing by animals this object appears to be attainable by following a system of management in which the pasture is grazed down at least once every two months during the active growing season depending, of course, on the prevailing climatic conditions and the botanical composition of the pasture.