AoR 58: Thomas Maxwell, New Zealand Grazing Geography in Brief

Americans often refer to electric fence as "New Zealand" fence, and many other grazing innovations seem to have origins in this relative small island in the southern hemisphere. Thomas Maxwell, a pasture scholar from Lincoln University in NZ, provides an overview of the history of indigenous land use, European settlement, and domesticated grazing animal use in New Zealand. 


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>> Welcome to the Art of Range, a podcast focused on rangelands and the people who manage them. I'm your host, Tip Hudson, Range and Livestock Specialist with Washington State University Extension. The goal of this podcast is education and conservation through conversation. Find us online at

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My guest today on The Art of Range is Thomas Maxwell. Thomas is a lecturer at Lincoln University in New Zealand. He and I met at the Society for Range Management's annual meeting in Denver in 2020, which was the last significant travel that I enjoyed before much of the world stopped commingling in public spaces. Thomas, welcome.

>>> Thanks, Tip. I'm really thrilled to be here, in your podcast, talking to you again. And yeah, just to add onto that, that was the last bit of significant travel I did as well to the states last year before the COVID situation escalated. But it's really good to be talking to you again. Yeah. It was a good conference, yeah.

>> Tell me a bit about yourself. Are you from New Zealand, and how did you end up being a range guy, which you are, even if that's not what they call it in New Zealand?

>> Yeah, I'm -- yes, I am a New Zealander, a Kiwi, though I have mixed heritage. My father is a New Zealander, and my mother's from Hong Kong. So I've lived in both -- grew up in both places. And I got interested in pasture from, I think, in my teenage years or rather farming, hill country farming, sheep and beef farming. We had some family friends, Matthew and Angela Hammond [assumed spelling], who were sheep and beef farmers in the western north island of New Zealand, very extensive hill country, steep slopes and naturalized exotic grassland communities, with some native shrub and forest remnants. But they came to Hong Kong trying to suss out some trading opportunities in mainland China for their wool and meat. And my dad, being a New Zealander living there, and when my mum had an old family friend who was a business -- businessman who hooked us up with the Hammonds, and they invited us down to their farm when we were back in New Zealand, and from a young age -- so the first time was 1997, when I was 13, I went to their farm, and I'd always been interested in the outdoors, but progressively up to my starting university, I stayed at their farm and worked and learned about sheep farming, grazing management, using beef cattle. They had Aberdeen Angus cattle, which really suited to the steep hill country of New Zealand, which similar to parts of the highlands of Scotland, where the sheep were -- well, came from. So and then I -- I wanted to do a degree in something outdoor. I was really interested in physical geography and ecology, and I really liked being on a farm -- pastoral farms. So I did a bit of Bachelor of Agricultural Science and stuck with it, though I had ambitions to be a vet, but I had better marks in plant science and soil science. So I stuck with that. And then in my final year of my Bachelors, I discovered a journal called the Journal of Range Management, which is now of course is, Rangeland Ecology and Management. And it was such a thrill to find this scientifically produced, peer-reviewed, you know, journal with papers about wolf and cattle interactions in western North America or Patagonian dry steppe grasslands or, you know, and --and Mongolian grazing plains, things like this. And so I thought, well, these are -- there's actually a scientific discipline in this, and then sort of got into the rangeland thinking and reading of which North America, particularly Western U.S., obviously, kind of birthplace for that concept, I suppose, even though there's rangelands all around the world. And then I found out that we actually used to have a Professor of Range Management here at Lincoln University, the late Professor Kevin O'Connor [assumed spelling]. And so I thought, well, these --New Zealand's got a bit of history in this space. So that kind of sums up, in a way, to how I got interested in it. And I've maintained an interest. I ended up doing my PhD on some naturalized annual clovers in some rangeland areas of Southern New Zealand. And so I've carried on that interest into an academic career here at Lincoln, as a lecturer in pasture science. So I do stuff on dairy pasture as well and lowland stuff. But my heart really is in the hills in the high country and more extensive rangeland situations here.

>> I know almost nothing about the geography of New Zealand except that there's lots of hills that have grass on them. Can you -- so I don't -- I don't know where Lincoln University is, but I have some idea of what the islands of New Zealand look like. Can you give just a thumbnail sketch of what is the -- the geography and the botany of New Zealand, for people who don't know New Zealand?

>> Certainly, Tip. Yeah. So New Zealand's got a latitude range of 34 degrees south to 47 degrees south. So the 45th parallel in the southern hemisphere runs through the -- the middle of the South Island. Lincoln University is just outside Christchurch on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand. And we have an oceanic climate. We're surrounded by ocean, the Tasman Sea to the west, the Southern Ocean to the south, and the southern Pacific to the west -- to the east sorry, the west is the Tasman Sea. And so we're where I am now is quite similar latitude to parts of Oregon. You know, the 45th parallel runs through, I believe, close to Salem or Eugene, right? In Oregon?

>> Uh-hmm.

>> And in a similar vein, the Cascade Mountain range in your part of the world, the PNW, Pacific Northwest, how that influences the climate in the west of Washington and Oregon is very similar to the way the Southern Alps of New Zealand have a massive role in determining the climate of New Zealand. So we have the Southern Alps, which run in a southwest to northeast direction, into the North Island, as well. It means it's the main divide there, and as a result, generally speaking, the west of New Zealand is wetter, and the east is drier, because of the rain shadow effect. Now, you mentioned, Tip, in one of your previous podcasts, I think you were talking to Dr. Steve Franzen [assumed spelling] about how the rainfall gradient for the Cascades is. It's starts at what, sort of 150 inches at the crest and gets down to five inches, closer to where you are in central Washington. Is that correct?

>> Correct.

>> Right. So just to give a contrast, in New Zealand, that range has a similar gradient, but is even steeper. We have 354 inches in some parts of the west around Fiordland, which is 9,000 millimeters, down to 11 inches in Central Otago, which is on the eastern side and surrounded by mountains. It's like an inland basin. Those listeners in North America might have heard of a place called Queenstown. So that's in -- that's in the Central Otago. A lot of, you know, filming of Lord of the Rings was done around there, that kind of thing. So that's --that rainfall gradient has determined the -- the biomes and the botany of New Zealand.

>> Wow.

>> Yeah. And we have a range of native polar caps or conifers. So basically there's a mixture -- New Zealand was a -- was a temperate forest with smatterings of tussock grassland before people first arrived. So the first people to arrive in New Zealand were the ancestors of -- of the Maori, our native indigenous people from Eastern Polynesia about 800 to 1,100 years ago. And what they saw was a huge continent-based relative to what they'd been used to in eastern Polynesia of, you know, relatively small islands, even though New Zealand is not a continent relative to Australia or North America, but through the early Polynesian migration, this was huge and much further south than what they were used to. It was below the -- the Tropic of the Southern Hemisphere. So a new climate to adapt to and new plants, new -- new animals. There are no native mammals in New Zealand but two small little bats, which fit in the palm of your hand, native bats, and fur seals on the coast, but no native herbivores or native carnivores on the land, but lots and lots of birds, much less so now, since people arrived in New Zealand. But yeah, they were large, flightless birds that evolved in the absence of major predators, [inaudible] and an eagle that is also now extinct. So the landscape was forest, a mixture of broadleaf and conifer in the north. As we go further south towards the bottom of the South Island, changed to beach forests. No [inaudible] species, different to the north and Northern Hemisphere Beach. And as you got higher up into the mountains, into the -- above the tree line, tussock grasslands and then scree and snow. So that was pre-people. Once people arrived, that started changing quite dramatically, due to firstly with Polynesian hunting tactics and clearing land for growing kumara or such like crops from Polynesia. So they used fires to flush out large game birds like the moor [assumed spelling], which was several times bigger than an ostrich. And so there was this sort of plentiful bounty of birds for meat in the early days. But that population crashed after a few hundred years, and the Maori were ancestors of modern day of the Maori were first to -- forced to go farming, as it were -- start to settle down and be agriculturalists in areas that it made sense to. And this led to further burning of forest areas, which actually paved the way for the natural expansion of grassland areas. So native tussock grassland areas, or the Tesuque, Tip, we talked about in the past is like a bunch grass you'd find in North America that can get up to one -- one and a half meters in size. Yeah. So that's an abbreviated history, if you like, of the botany and geography of New Zealand.

>> Did I hear you correctly that it's believed that the Polynesians didn't arrive until about a thousand years ago?

>> the oral history of Maori people -- it varies from 800 years to 1,100, maybe more. So, around about 1,000 to 800 years was when the first wave of Polynesian migration arrived onto the shores of what we now call New Zealand. But the early Polynesians gave the name Aotearoa, which stands for Land of the Long White Cloud. And if you can imagine yourself in an outrigger canoe from Eastern Polynesia on tradewinds trying to come south, seeing this large white cloud in the distance being created as a result of the mountain chain. So, you know, you know, you're normally looking out on the horizon, and it's open ocean. And all of a sudden there's this odd cloud, because there's a landform, creating the uplift of the water vapor and condensation. So, yeah. But to answer your question, around about 1,000 to 800 years. So New Zealand is one of the last major land masses to be colonized, to have the arrival of people. If you think of it that way, yeah.

>> Yeah. I did not know that. At what point was there subsequent settlement by whatever we now call people who arrived on the islands later than the -- than the Polynesians?

>> Right. So, yeah. So from about 1840, there was significantly more European settlers to New Zealand. When I say European, I'm referring to the British Isles, England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, some from Scandinavia, and the Netherlands later on, but predominantly from the United Kingdom. It's a British Empire links, and a name for New Zealanders today of European descent is [inaudible]. So from the first European, according to oral history and Dutch history, matching up was Abel Tasman and his ship, which I forget the name of, but he came anchored in a cove off the northwest of the South Island. None of his men, according to the ship's logs, actually set foot on New Zealand or Aotearoa, although he named it Nova Zeelandia, Zeelandia in Dutch, meaning -- because he was -- thought of an island of his home province, Zeeland, thus New Zealand. But no other Europeans made it down to Aotearoa -- New Zealand until the British and Captain James Cook. And he came three times, from three separate occasions. And that's when the first contact between European outsiders and -- and the Maori people occurred on land, as it were. There was a bit of a skirmish between local Maori in the -- in the South Island, where Abel Tasman ship anchored and his fleet. It was actually a cultural misunderstanding. The -- the Dutch sailors responded -- and tried to respond in a friendly greeting, but the local Maori viewed that as a call to war. So as a result, there was some blood shed on that occasion. But -- but the -- when Captain James Cook arrived, it was -- it was different. There was -- there was conflict, but there was also peaceful interaction at first.

>> Something in the back of my brain wants to say that that stretch of water between the North Island and South Island is called Cook Strait, is that right?

>> That is -- that is correct. You're dead right. Yeah. That's the -- that's the name -- a common name we use now. There is a -- there is a name that Maori -- local Maori tribes in the bottom of the North Island, the top of the South Island have. But yeah, we call that Cook Strait. It's quite an interesting stretch of water. It's not calm like the Puget Sound.

>> So what point after that did domestic livestock begin to arrive? I would presume, not very long?

>> Yeah, so we had the Treaty of Waitangi in 1842, and from that point onwards, there was a lot of interaction -- some good, a lot not so good. Land wars -- Maori and European settlers battling for -- for land, or rather invasion of tribal lands by more settlers. It was quite interesting, the -- the balance of power, if you like, or balance of population for local -- for Maori people and European settlers changed really quickly in the space of 20 years. There were more Maori people than European settlers, but then over a course of a 20 year period, the number of European settlers doubled or tripled, and so that led to significant cultural and ecological changes to the landscape of New Zealand. But the domestic livestock followed European settlement and spread through the North Island and in the South Island. And the -- it was sheep and beef cattle at first, primarily. Yeah. And there were -- there was a -- a movement for many, many years of burn felling, clear felling om the winter and then let things dry, and then drier in the summer, and then try to get a really strong burn, that would go through and clean everything up and create as much ash as possible. And like a fertile -- fertile environment for -- introduced grasses or crops to establish. And then also -- so later, in subsequent years, when the big tree trunks of some of these native trees were fully dry, burning again. So a lot of the easier lowland country had been clear felled by that time.

>> And was it the combination of those practices that would lead to the vegetation shifting to other species?

>> Yeah.

>> Or did that not happen?

>> Oh, no, yeah, that was -- that was the prime factor of change. So just stepping back a little bit, European -- before European-initiated change, the Maori were also creating a change in the landscape, through their burning for clearing land and hunting big game, the birds. That in the South Island, particularly, a lot of the -- called montane tussock grasslands expanded, due to what we believe was Maori fires for -- for hunting and clearing land. And as a result of that, a second wave of change with European settlers into the South Island [inaudible]. So these are the real kind of rangeland areas of New Zealand -- large, expensive, mountain basins, high mountains, what we call hill and high country, anything over 600, 700 meters altitude would be considered high country, and it could be rolling to flat or quite undulating and steep country. That was -- further fires were done there of burning of the tussock grasslands, to promote new growth and new shoots from these bunch -- big bunch tussock -- native tussock grasslands of the [inaudible] species, families. The new growth, the sheep could eat because the biomass at times was more than 50 per cent dead standing matter, so they -- the settlers try on the summers, it was a periodic practice of burn and create an environment for new growth and also subsequent seeding of more English or South Western European grasses and legumes and herbs, to improve the forage availability for sheep, primarily sheep, and then later on, a bit more beef cattle, in those -- what we call the Big South Island runs or the -- in New Zealand and Australia, to the -- we don't use the word ranch as commonly as your part of the world, but ranch and station are kind of synonymous. And so a big station would be like a big ranch, you know, several thousand or tens of thousands of acres of country for extensive pastoralism.

>> And what today is the general balance between the different livestock species? New Zealand is known for sheep, but are sheep still the dominant livestock species there, or are cattle as abundant?

>> It's a very good question to -- so, New Zealand reached its peak sheep livestock number in 1990 or 1980s, about 70 million. But that has dropped now to 26, 27 million sheep.

>> Hmm.

>> And that's in response to several factors that -- the number of dairy cattle has increased significantly in the last 10 to 15 years. But the balance of livestock in New Zealand today is it's 40 -- 44 percent of farms, mainly sheep and beef farming. Often you'll find sheep and beef cattle coexisting, grazing together. Whether the focus is the sheep or the beef depends on the individual farmer or station run holder. But usually the beef cattle are used to condition or -- the pastures or supplement the pastures, help grazing management to improve it for sheep, the rest -- 21 percent is for dairy farming. Then we have mixed livestock. In terms of numbers, there is much more beef dairy cattle now than sheep, so about 27 million sheep and about 5.9 -- 6.4 million dairy cattle and 3.8 million beef cattle and 27 million sheep and just under a million deer, which is another interesting story, kind of unique to New Zealand, the farming of deer.

>> Yeah, these are the Red Deer? Am I -- is that right?

>> A mixture of red deer from Europe and Wapiti, or elk from North America. Yeah. Different genetics there. But the original deer in New Zealand originated from red deer imported from the U.K. Yeah.

>> And they're farmed for meat?

>> They're farmed for meat, venison, and also velvet or immature antler, which is used in traditional Asian Chinese medicine in Korea and places like Hong Kong are big markets for that. And then the venison primarily destined for northern Europe, for their midwinter market, Scandinavia, northern Germany. Yeah, and that's one of the advantages New Zealand has had, is we're in the southern hemisphere, but supplying a northern hemisphere market. So we're out of sync with the northern hemisphere and we can supply things like lamb to the U.K, and Europe in Christmas and Easter and increasingly more to the United States, though, more kind of specialist cuts of lamb and meat.

>> And going back to your comment about the increase in dairy cattle, you know, I'm not sure what the -- what the percentages are in the United States, but the majority of dairies in the U.S. are feeding mostly, you know, harvested feedstuffs, bunk feeding, you know, more like a feedlot situation, where the animals are milked rather than pastured dairy cattle. There's certainly plenty of pasture dairy cattle, but -- but if you looked at, you know, say, for example, the percent of -- the percent of feed on an annual basis, across all dairy cattle in all of the U.S., I would guess that it's -- a pretty large majority of that feed is -- is fed and not grazed off of a, you know, a pasture.

>> Right.

>> I'm guessing that's not the case in New Zealand. Is that right?

>> Your guess is spot on. It's correct, yeah. Ninety, 95 percent of the feed for our dairy cattle herd is grazing in situ or --

>> Yeah.

>> -- supplement made from that grazing platform of rye grass, dominant pasture, with some forage crops for winter and summer, of different varieties. But yes, it's pretty much in situ grazing, though we have a very seasonally dominant grazing herd. So, you know, it's lactation and then a rest in the winter. So, yeah, you're right there, Tip. It's most predominantly pasture-fed dairy cattle. There's been -- it was quite interesting, the -- in the last 10 -- last decade, 15 years, the dairy industry is really boomed or increased significantly in New Zealand, in response to an increasing demand or market for dairy products, particularly in Asia, Southeast Asia -- growing affluence in, you know, Chinese cities, and in India. New Zealand is the eighth largest -- which is nothing really --milk producer in the world. We produce like three percent of the world's milk, if you think of, you know, the world's milk as being a 10 gallon bucket, but 80 percent of that milk is consumed -- in that bucket is consumed by the countries that produce it. Twenty percent on the top, the cream, if you like, is exported, is traded internationally. New Zealand plays a big part in that 20 percent that's traded, hence being one of the largest producers and exporters of butter and milk powder onto the world market. And yeah, that -- that perception or that reality of grass-based dairy products is -- is something that we push quite hard for our marketing.

>> Well I'm sure. I think you've begun to answer one of the questions that I wanted to get to, which was that there's something significant going on in New Zealand, because Americans -- now we have -- well, we have all kinds of pasture innovations that are referred to as New Zealand products. So Americans still talk about electric fence as being New Zealand fence. And we have no-tail passage rails that are called New Zealand drills. And there's a lot of pasture seed technology that, you know, has New Zealand language on it. So I think most Americans don't have any idea where that comes from. But, yeah, I think you've begun to answer that question. If you're -- you know, if you're -- if you're trying to get cows to produce milk and milk fat, they have to have a pretty high quality diet, and if they're getting all of that diet or the vast majority of it in situ and grazing on pasture or wildlands, you have to provide them with pretty high quality forage.

>> Yeah. When you -- I find that quite interesting or a bit of a hoot, like kind of a thrill to hear you say those things, because, to be honest, a lot of New Zealanders aren't aware. I wasn't that aware until you made it -- pointed it out to me of things I oh, you know, the electric fence or some fencing technology. We call it New Zealand fence across the states and, you know, [inaudible] direct drills New Zealand drills. And these are things, I guess, that evolved out of New Zealand or, you know, in New Zealand. We built on the work of previous countries and evolved it. So, that New Zealand fences -- we could call it. I suppose it's kind of funny saying that, being here, but the electric fence here evolved out of the necessity to maximize milk solid production. So milk, fat, and protein from a limited area, you know, and that's how the -- I guess the more precise and the stock standard rotational grazing for New Zealand dairy pastures of moving, you know, moving the cattle onto a new break of dairy pasture when the ryegrass reaches the three leaf stage evolved around -- was made possible with this electric fencing of putting up a two wire, high tensile, highly conductive metal wire around your given paddock and putting just the clip on, and with the electric current going through was an easy way to concentrate grazing pressure in that area for 24 hours or 12 hours, before the cows move to their next break. I remember talking to -- at the Society of Range Management Conference last year. I think the next day after we'd first met, I talked to Professor Clayton Marlow of Montana State University, who was the past president, and he was very kind to make time for me during that event, because he was sort of basically one of the organizers. And he -- he talked about visiting New Zealand when his son was there, and saying, you know, one of the reasons, I guess, you guys have refined or been pushed more to evolve your grazing management in the way that it has, is because you've got limited land, relative to to us here in North America. You know, he mentioned, well, if we kind of ran out of things or stuff things up here, we could move west, he said. It's a very broad, general comment I hope doesn't offend anybody. But there's some reality to that. You know, you all just keep moving westwards. New Zealand will -- you're going to move into the sea, if you do that. So there was this necessity and practicality that emerged, to make the best and most appropriate use ecologically for economic gain of the area you had. So the areas where there is dairy farming relative to extensive, you know, more grazing for sheep and beef cattle, as is dictated by topography and soil and climate. The flatter lowland areas now are really very dominant. If it's not a pastoral industry, if it's another agricultural industry, it's the lowland volcanic soils or deeper soils that hold good water I use for dairying, whereas the hill country and in both wetter and drier areas, are the domain of sheep and beef cattle. Yeah, and in those areas, you know, you can get some electric or New Zealand fence in the areas that you can use -- can cultivate and improve pastures, whereas the hillside, in order to do that, we've used aerial top dressing. So spreading fertilizer like superphosphate and legume seed from an airplane onto inaccessible areas with a truck or a tractor, that's the way to get -- to try and improve. The foragers also get, you know, nitrogen fixes into the system. Yeah.

>> So is that level of pasture management relatively common? Is that more or less the norm, or does that represent people who are being, you know, kind of on the -- the leading edge of management, trying to optimize production?

>> With regards to flying on seed and fertilizer into hill country?

>> Yeah, them using electric fence to, you know, manage grazing use.

>> Yeah. It's where it makes sense to have the electric fence, it's pretty much done. It's very commonplace.

>> Yeah.

>> Post-World War II, from the 1950s, massive increase in the use of superphosphate and using aerial top tracing, flying that on to hill country farms, using an airplane, also lime, to correct native soil acidity to improve nutrient uptake, but that -- it's common practice when the individual farms capital allows. when the finances allow to fly out lime and superphosphate to drive the legume component, which legumes like your clovers or your lotus, your alfalfa. We call that [inaudible] in New Zealand. It's much more hungry for phosphorus and sulfur, rather than the grass. And if you can get that nitrogen flowing through those legumes, it benefits the grass, of course. And it is very -- that's kind of the -- I don't know if stock standard's the word, but very common mindset and cultural practice for hill country farmers in the last half century, generally speaking, on top of that, with sound grazing management, with timing and density to encourage legume components at the times of the year when we're into the growth phase of our pasture calendar. Yes. So, yes, that is a common. That is kind of what everybody does if they can. Yeah.

>> Yeah, you were involved in a recent paper on functional diversity versus monotony. I think the subtitle was The Effect of a Multi-forage diet, as opposed to a single forage diet on animal intake, performance, welfare and urinary nitrogen excretion. I have some idea of what I think functional diversity means, you know, in a kind of a wildland, rangeland setting. But I'm interested in your definition of that, given the physical context or the agricultural -- agricultural context that we're talking about. And is that a reaction to practices that are reducing functional diversity? And you're looking for some ways to improve it, and looking for some -- you're looking to demonstrate some agricultural and economic benefits of doing that? What was the genesis of that study, and how would you describe functional diversity?

>> Yes, yes, yes, and yes, Tip. You're -- I'll go through those points, but yeah, no, you're absolutely right in your thought process there. You actually summed it up better than I could. Functional diversity first. So that project you're referring to is very recent. Your product with the play there. It's a very good PhD student we have here. Connor Garrett [assumed spelling], who is -- the main supervisor there is Professor Pablo Gregorini [phonetic]. And yes, I was involved in that --with looking at -- so the functional biodiversity being okay, what can we match? Can we improve on just one or two species in the landscape? So as I got all sorts of thoughts flying through my head, but yes, this is a reaction to -- and sort of a trend towards more monotonizing forest resources and intensive agriculture in New Zealand. Ryegrass has become very dominant for dairy pastures, because it responds to, you know, urea fertilizer, which has been relatively easy to apply, even though the cost is going up. As a result, the legume component has deteriorated, because it's outcompeted by this free nitrogen, and the grasses respond to that better. So, yes, there has been a push towards feeding more quickly and more easily. And as a result, we're getting sort of more single species or just dual species dominance. But that just looks at one aspect of nutrition and livestock production, perhaps. So with this study, we were thinking about other things like animal welfare, hard to measure animal happiness or even what it means, but a varied diet, I mean, and a -- a diverse diet, having benefits of greater nutrition, live weight gain, but also reduced environmental -- negative environmental impacts or consequences of livestock production, such as methane gas emissions, urinary nitrogen deposition, to free draining soil and potential nitrate-leaching and negative effects on freshwater ecosystems, things like this. So that study, we looked at basically -- Professor Fred Provenza, who I know you've had on your show, is a bit of a mentor of Pablo Gregorini, and he's --- his thinking, I guess, out of -- and, you know, he's still active a bit, out of Utah State, his influence that research -- this research that's going on here with Pablo. But if you can imagine a strip, a paddock in front of you, a field, a pasture, and we've got to find strips of alfalfa. So a monoculture strip of alfalfa next to that ryegrass, perennial ryegrass, next to that chicory, next to that plantain, and then next to that, either a red clover or a lotus, something with a higher condensed tendon composition and its herbage. And the idea there is testing two things, both herbage mass on offer, but when it's available as well, so almost influencing the availability at the time of day of these different forages for the animal. And so rather than saying -- giving them a smorgasbord all at once, you match it to the different grazing patterns or habits of the animal over the course of a day. That's the philosophy behind that research drive, and it's yielded some interesting results. So a recent student finished here, Dr. Matt Beck, who's originally from Arkansas -- Oklahoma. He's back in the States now, but he did something similar in this -- in this space, and looking at animal physiology parameters, as a result of eating these strips of diverse pasture, or a pasture that's made up of distinct, spatially separated strips of forage. Now, the challenge is, how can we take this to a much more rangeland-like landscape, and how would that fit in? To me, functional biodiversity, to me, personally, shouldn't discriminate between native exotic or naturalized species. If a species has a function in a landscape, regardless of how it got there, and if it's not deemed a noxious weed, it should have some value, particularly if this is a [inaudible] ecosystem. One point I'd like to make that's possibly -- there may be other countries in the world that this is the case, but the native grasslands of New Zealand evolved in the absence of mammalian herbivores. And so the early days of high country pastoralism with burning that [inaudible] grassland to promote growth for sheep, this was a major shock to the resilience of that system. And as a result, it's really now a lot of those, what we call native grassland areas, are a mosaic of native communities, with introduced European grasses or Eurasian legumes and things like that. So this functional biodiversity is an evolving tool and concept. I guess an acknowledgment of more biodiversity is better for all sorts of ecosystem services. We're trying to move in that way a bit, but not be so pure, in the sense of, well, if it's not a native plant, get rid of it. That's -- I have to say this -- New Zealand agriculture and pastoralism would not be what it is today and not been as successful, in terms of earning money for the country and a reputation of the country, if it wasn't for species that originated from southwestern Europe, North America, and Eurasia, with regards to pasture, and grassland herbs, you know, grass species.

>> I like the idea of forward sequencing, as a means of getting diversity in the diet, rather than trying to pack 25 different species into the same square meter. That reminds me of something that I can't remember whether Dr. Provenza talked about this in our interview or not. But he, as you may know, co-authored a book with a guy from France on shepherding.

>> Yes.

>> Kind of a resurgence of interest in old fashioned shepherding. And one of the things that that the old shepherds knew about was, you know, camping animals out, removing them from one plant community to the next in a, you know, a natural setting. And the -- that sequence had meaning and purpose to it. You know, in many cases, it allowed animals to digest certain food stuffs that they would not have been able to metabolize otherwise, because of what they ate immediately before that, and some of the plants' secondary compounds that conditioned the rumen to be able to digest whatever came next. That's really intriguing. Of course, on rangelands, you know, you -- you get some of that naturally, where, you know, in any place where the soil profile, I guess, both horizontally and vertically, has not been homogenized, you -- you naturally have different species that prefer one environment over the other. And so here you have, you know, mid-sized grasses and tall grasses. And then over there in the shallower clay, your soils, you have, you know, native forbs that have a whole different nutritional profile. And animals ordinarily would have access to all of that in a given -- in a given pasture paddock, range unit, you know, whatever you want to call it.

>> Yeah. Well, that brings to mind another, I guess, fundamental difference between the grazing reality of rangelands in New Zealand versus Western North America or, well, let's say areas that you're familiar with, Tip, in your work --- is the scale, going back to a comment made by Clayton Marlow of the scale of, you know, the Western rangelands or grazing areas that are used in western U.S. versus a place like New Zealand.

>> Right. At one point, it was felt that they were unlimited. You could always just move into the next big spot and just keep going.

>> And I mean, I won't talk for the Australians. I imagine you might get an Australian on the show at some point to talk about Australia's experience with pastoralism. But -- and one other point I'd like to make is, with -- so with the New Zealand fence, as you call it, and the state's electric fence or even just simply fencing, whether it's electric or not, our subdivision, as we call it, that's been a huge part of New Zealand's pastoral experience and journey of subdividing areas or blocks of hill country and high country, to -- that's the first thing to do, before even putting in improved grasses that, you know, from the the base grassland [inaudible] that emerged after the forest felling has been using fences to concentrate on the area and then moving the animals. And as a result of that and some of the work that's done here at Lincoln, Professor Derrick Moot, who runs the drylands pasture team, has used -- developed really specific summer forage grazing systems using alfalfa or [inaudible] as a forage crop in summer to bring off animals, both sheep and beef cattle, off the hill country that was their food source in the spring, to allow those areas to go to seed, to rest a bit. And you've -- you feed your prime animals, you know, lambs that need fattening or young cattle stock, beef cattle stock, prime beef onto more intensive forage crops like [inaudible] or red clover. And that's only possible with subdivision and strategic improvement of areas that, you know, are flat. So you can add inputs and do pasture innovation, while leaving the sort of rangeland areas relatively undisturbed or modified. So that was my -- when I just got into rangelands research was looking at these naturalized annual clovers, because I had a question for you, Tip, again about naturalized species. We've talked a bit about those in eastern Oregon, or you told me a bit about those and the role they play, in terms of functional diversity or resilience. They may not be native, but they fulfill a role in that grazed landscape or ecosystem. So I did my PhD on --for naturalized annual clover trifolium species in a high country farm that was characterized by a summer dry period, from late spring to early autumn, of soil moisture deficit. And as a result, there are certain areas on the landscape that are dominated by annual plant communities, grasses and legumes, or hardy perennial shrubs. Yeah, these species, of course, originate from Turkey, Iran, Georgia, North Africa, the true Mediterranean, Italy, and so on.

>> Mm hmm. One of the things I wanted to ask you before I forget about it, you have a pretty good awareness of North American grazer culture. And even though what we've mostly talked about on this podcast has been, you know, semiarid rangelands and more natural plant communities, they're -- you know, most -- most of the ranchers that are grazing in those plant communities, I don't know if most is accurate, but it's not too far off to say that a significant number of -- of the -- of the ranchers in North America also have irrigated pasture that is managed pretty intensively, you know, where you could have range ground that produces 700 pounds to the acre forage. I'm not quite sure what that is in kilograms per --

>> It's actually close -- it's actually close to being 700 or 800 kgs [inaudible] of a hectare. Yeah, it's almost [inaudible].

>> And then they're also managing irrigated pasture that may produce, you know, 8,000 pounds per acre. And that, you know, represents a lot of times where we're ranchers would be keeping calves or, you know, first calf heifers that require a little bit better nutrition. Is there anything that you see your Kiwis doing well, in terms of pasture management that is missing from -- from intensive pasture management in the United States?

>> Oh, that's putting me on the spot a bit, Tip, but yeah, I guess. I mean, this is a space I'd love to explore more by returning to the states and and looking and talking to people. But from what I've seen, the limited things I've seen and talking to people like yourself and comparing that to the New Zealand experience, is that I think we're a bit spoiled in New Zealand, because of the climate, which means we can -- it's much easier to manage, to get a good outcome here of your pasture than it is, say, in an area where, you know, it's truly semi-arid and you get plants that go into dormancy, like Steve Franzen was -- went through that pasture [inaudible] and talked about -- dormancy and what happens with route shedding and new initiation of apical [inaudible] those roots. But in New Zealand, really, most of the year, things keep growing. There's very few spots where we have true dormancy of forage or pasture plants. Now, if you take that into account, the things we do to get maximum growth rates and, you know, minimal animal health problems and basically get live weight gains at maximum, to reach these salable targets for -- whether it's beef cattle or young beef cattle or young dairy cattle that are going to be dairy heifers that are going into a milking herd, or if it's lambs that need to be ready before Christmas and they were born in August or September or even later -- it's -- I guess it's the placement -- the placement and frequency of subdivision. So the use of fences, with the ability to control grazing pressure in space and time using subdivision, and also the climate allowing -- you know, the climates and the precipitation and the temperature allowing pretty rapid regrowth, if there's no grazing. And, you know, New Zealand in terms of geographical space fits into the Pacific Northwest, if you include Washington and Oregon together. We're really quite small. In saying that, there's a lot of climatic variability in soils and so on. But that's -- that's the only comment I could say at this stage. I feel there's a lot more there that could be teased out, if I spent more time in the United States. But -- well, one other thing I'd add to that, actually, is the use of -- is the nutrition and the use of legumes. So that's -- that's one other factor for us as we really hammer home -- it's almost a doctrine that's almost dogmatic at times around legumes -- use legumes to drive your pasture system or --- and going further than that, what species of legume would drive your system wherever you happen to be in the country? So whether that's white clover or red clover or subterranean clover or [inaudible] or -- or a combination of lotus and something else or -- or another top-flowering annual clover, white clover is the dominant in New Zealand, because it's predominantly quite moist throughout the country. But in areas where it's dry, we get -- we use other legumes, matching the species to the ecosystem urine, and with that nutrition and that nitrogen being fixed to benefit the grasses, that's been our -- our recipe, and good grazes in New Zealand -- good farmers really try to graze in a way that favors the legume component, because they know that if that's right, everything else will benefit. You know, if it's a grass-dominant pasture starting, then you can you think, okay, how do we get more legumes back into the component, back into the [inaudible] component?

>> Yeah, I think you're right. It's my impression that, at least over the last 50 years, there's been a lot of -- a lot of pasture management accomplished with the use of herbicides. And, you know, people can have a pretty wide variety of strong opinions about whether or not herbicide is a good idea or not. But the widespread use of broadleaf herbicides certainly has been a major limiting factor in allowing some of these legumes that should be successful and productive and part of, you know, providing some sustainable nitrogen in pasture systems.

>> Yeah.

>> I think that has been a pretty big deal.

>> Yeah. Well, I mean, if you want to put feel good -- or sort of labels on things, it's the most organic way to get more nitrogen into your system, is to use legumes, and that's been done for hundreds of years, I guess, if it's a cropping system or whatever.

>> Sure. And without it, you have to -- if you're spending money on herbicide to kill plants that shouldn't be there, which also kills some that should be there, and then, as a result of not having the legumes, then you're also having to spend money on pasture fertilizer, if you're exporting 10 to 20 percent of the nitrogen out of that, you know, soil-plant interface every year.

>> Yeah. It takes a bit -- you have to be mindful of the -- I'm thinking as a grazier now, like one of the things I guess New Zealand does well is the the grazier is -- a grazing manager and farmer is thinking, how do I graze this to suit the personality, if you follow me, of the legume component or the traits of the legume component? What does -- what does that species like? What doesn't it like? And the other thing there is how the sensitivities or the nuances around grazing management for the legume, rather than the grass and being on the ball with it or having your thumb on the pulse for that, can be the difference between success or just mediocre.

>> And if you had 60 seconds to describe how people manage for the dominant legumes, how would you describe that? Higher, [inaudible], high?

>> Lower, lower [inaudible]. So it's all about making sure enough light likes getting down into those legumes. So the top dominant one, whether that's sub-clover, subterranean clover, trifolium subterranean or trifolium [inaudible] white white clover in New Zealand, using your stock class or livestock class to make sure that the sward height is -- is controlled, so that light is getting down and warmth is getting down to those legumes, so they can express their biological potential, assuming that you've taken care of phosphorous and salt PH levels. And that's where the the -- the dance, if you like, between sheep and beef cattle comes into play in the -- in the hill country of New Zealand, where you can use either old, you know, use the female sheep that are no longer lactating to condition a pasture or for the subsequent spring. So you're eating down the tag or the standing dead matter using beef cattle in the spring, to make sure they keep on top of the fast growing ryegrass, which is going to go to seed earlier than your white clover -- keeping that down, so the white clover is getting the sunlight and the warmth, so it can then express itself, and making sure you have just enough mouths of beef cattle with the sheep. So you've got that balance with the cattle being less discriminatory than the sheep with their grazing preference. That's over 60 seconds, but that would be my summation. I guess. Tip, is this about height and density balance using grazing management strategically for the sake of the legume and whether that's a perennial or an annual? If it's a perennial, when it's growing the most, making sure you're on top of that [inaudible] height and density. If it's an annual, making sure you are not grazing it when it's going to seed. So you've taken off the grazing pressure to allow that to go to seed. And then before the autumn or fall rains come when those seeds will germinate, making a garden bed, if you like, of some bare ground or low [inaudible] height so that those seeds can germinate and not get shaded out by annual grasses or competing less palatable grasses.

>> Now, that's a great summary. That reminds me of a conversation we had previously about competing rules of thumb. You know, those are the -- those are good grazing guidelines for either, you know, rain-fed pasture, in an environment where you receive more than 25 inches of rain per year. But -- but those -- if you apply that kind of thinking and that management to our bunch grasses, I'm not totally sure whether they're, you know, physiologically similar or identical to your tussock grasses, where, you know, where our bunch grasses in much of the West have elevated growing points and they're vulnerable to being killed, if they're grazed below those every year, and they require periodic seed production. You know, those -- those guidelines are antagonistic with the kind of grazing that you would do to maintain a high quality, you know, grass, legume pasture, and that's something we might need to explore in a separate podcast, maybe pull a few more people in. That would be fun.

>> Yeah, yeah, that would be fun. And just to follow on -- yes, I believe our species -- tussock grass species in New Zealand have that same personality, if you like, phenology, growth, development, ecology as your bunch grasses in that there's an elevated growing point. There's a lot of standing dead matter in a clump of grass. And in order to recede that [inaudible] of head, there, they're living limbs, if you like, grazed off, and if they are, they're constantly drawing on the rootstocks to replenish. Just to add to that as well, the tussock -- native tussock grasses don't always flower each year. They have a [inaudible] season, where some years, you know, you have massive -- and other years, you don't. But these can be long-lived species. An individual plant could be 50 years, 70 years old [inaudible] and can -- can tolerate to an extent, some grazing and fire with, you know, if 80 percent of its mass is this dead matter that's all standing --dead biomass that's protecting the living chute or crown a bit like, I guess, you know, a redwood with its huge bark mass. It can tolerate a bit of fire, but yeah, excessive or repeated grazing, they don't grow fast. The chute -- the leaves don't replenish in the same way that an annual ryegrass would. So, yeah.

>> Well, that's an excellent taser for a future episode. So I'm going to make an abrupt shift and thank you again for your time. Thomas Maxwell from Lincoln University in New Zealand. I'm thrilled to have had you on today.

>> Thank you very much. It's been my pleasure as well. I really love your podcast thing. You're doing a great job. And many more topics to talk about with people, but keep up the good work with your podcast. It's -- it's really cool.

>> I appreciate it. Thank you for listening to the Art of Range podcast. You can subscribe to and review the show through iTunes or your favorite podcasting app so you never miss an episode. Just search for Art of Range. If you have questions or comments for us to address in a future episode, send an email to For articles and links to resources mentioned in the podcast, please see the show notes at Listener feedback is important to the success of our mission, empowering rangeland managers. Please take a moment to fill out a brief survey at This podcast is produced by Conures Communications in the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. The project is supported by the University of Arizona and funded by the Western Center for Risk Management Education through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Mentioned Resources

Recent article "Functional diversity vs monotony: The effect of a multi-forage diet as opposed to a single forage diet on animal intake, performance, welfare, and urinary nitrogen excretion".…/skab058/6148868

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