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Nutritive value of native pasture

Native grasses as a group should not be considered to be low nutritive value. Grazing animals actively select better quality components of a pasture and especially hardy heritage breeds do well on native pastures.

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The nutritive value of native grasses is generally considered poor but there is tremendous variation among species. For example the nutritive value in leafy species depends more on the age of the plant, the stage of growth and the soil fertility than on the species.

For most native grasses the protein content may be 10–20% if leaves are young and actively growing and drop to 1–8% when the plant is mature and dry or frosted. Cultivars of Microlaena and Elymus have recorded values as high as 21% and 30% under ideal conditions.

Importantly, native grasses retain a high proportion of dead leaf in dry periods, a time when other feed sources are unavailable, and are able to support some production when exotic species have failed. This is their true value. In higher rainfall areas this high leaf retention tends to provide a competitive advantage over other germinating plants due to a shading effect.