Real Time Pasture Management

Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems - Bell, Matt J. Mereu, Luca Davis, James

Type: Research Paper
Knowledge level: Advanced

Farm Table says:

This research suggestion maintaining pasture heights to more than 7 cm can improve the overall nutritive benefits to grazing animals, which might lead to productivity gains.

The Use of Mobile Near-Infrared Spectroscopy for Real-Time Pasture Management

What is the problem?

During the growing season the nutrient levels in pastures change. However, these changes are typically not monitored. Researchers from the University of Nottingham investigated ways of utilising real-time near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) to help farmers improve how effectively forage can be utilised.

What did the research involve?

  • NIRS was used to monitor seasonal changes in nutrient concentrations of different pasture types used for grazing and silage production.
  • Three temporary ley pastures (3 years old) and three permanent pastures, grazed by cattle or sheep and used for silage production were monitored weekly for 20 weeks during 2017 in the UK.
  • A mobile NIRS device was used to scan cut pasture samples for their nutrient concentrations.
  • Herbage height was also measured each week.
  • Four replicate scans, consisting of a spectrum of infrared energy reflected from the pasture sample were used in the NIRS system to estimate nutrient concentration averages of the four scans.
  • Multiple nutrient concentrations and physical/chemical characteristics were measured using the NIRS device

What were the key findings?

  • This study from Bell et al. (2018) suggests that grazing pastures to a mean height of below 7 cm results in a significantly reduced concentration of crude protein, digestible organic matter and dry matter digestibility, which may be detrimental to the grass intake and protein intake for the grazing animal.
  • Analyses of NIRS measurements led to considerable variation being observed in pastures higher than 7 cm where the digestible organic matter and dry matter digestibility of pasture were positively correlated with herbage height and crude protein concentration.

Final comment

This paper describes an approach of real-time pasture nutrient monitoring that can facilitate more timely adaptive pasture management than is currently feasible and should lead to productivity gains.


This paper was summarised by Luke Stafford (Bachelor of Biological Sciences with Honours – Botany and Genetics Majors (La Trobe University) and reviewed by Nickala Best (PhD Student (La Trobe University). Learn more about Luke and Nickala here.

2018 - United Kingdom - Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems - Bell, Matt J. Mereu, Luca Davis, James
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