Lucerne – bending the rules at lambing

Rule 1:  Never set stock on lucerne

Rule 2: If you want to set stock on lucerne – read Rule 1.

Rule 3: If you have a large area of lucerne (more than 15% of your farm) and are running out of lambing area you may need to set stock for a short period (up to 3 weeks) on some paddocks over lambing. Based on understanding how the plants grow the Dryland Pastures team in association with Fraser Avery have come up with the following guidelines. These have been used on several farms for many years … but should only be adopted once you are comfortable with rotational grazing of lucerne and your area of lucerne has increased.

In practice

Scanning into lambing mobs is essential to ensure any set stocking is for a minimum period of time of less than one cycle.

Space at lambing is important – so only 6-8 ewe/ha during the initial set stocking period.

Ewes and lambs (7 ewes plus twin lambs/ha) in lambing paddock at Bonavaree Farm, Marlborough on 10/8/2020 (Photo: DJ Moot).

Use mid age stands (3-5 years) where possible rather than 1 and 2 year old stands.

If you have running out stands that you have drilled Italian ryegrass or prairie grass into start with those.

Ewes and lambs on and Italian ryegrass/lucerne stand at Bonavaree Farm, Marlborough on 10/8/2020 (Photo: DJ Moot).

Lucerne should be 6 – 8 cm tall and the stocking rate ensures that not every shoot in the paddock is grazed. This will allow the ungrazed shoots to come away underneath the ewes and lambs.

Fraser Avery standing in a set stocked lucerne paddock – at appropriate grazing height (Photo: DJ Moot).

If the lucerne starts to decrease in height under set stocking you have too many mouths on the paddock and this will set the recovery of this paddock back significantly later in spring.

When you look down into the paddock you should still see a canopy of leaves – if you are seeing bare ground then the stand is being grazed too heavily and weed invasion can be expected.

Lucerne plant canopy still closed having been semi grazed during set stocking at Bonavaree Farm, Marlborough (Photo: DJ Moot).

Only set stock on a maximum of 50% of your lucerne so the other paddocks can continue to grow ahead of you to allow as early a transition into rotational grazing mobs as possible.


Remember Rules 1 and 2 – you are breaking these so do so for the shortest possible time!