All Posts

Pasture Grasses in Australia: Types, Identification & More

pasture grasses
Written by
Sheeda Cheng
June 21, 2024

The importance of selecting the right pasture grasses in Australia cannot be overstated. Pasture grasses form the backbone of most grazing operations and provide a range of benefits, from promoting cattle health and productivity to mitigating against adverse environmental impacts. 

Therefore, choosing suitable grass species for your pasture could mean the difference between a flourishing operation and one that struggles to achieve its potential.

From the heat-tolerant sorghum and sudangrass to the colder climate favourites like ryegrass varieties and brome grass, Australia boasts a myriad of grass species each with its unique characteristics and benefits. But, how do you know which is best suited for your needs? 


It all begins with understanding what pasture grass is and its crucial role in grazing systems, identifying different types, and considering their adaptability to various climatic and soil conditions in Australia. That being said, this article will help you understand all of this.

It goes without saying that recognizing the country’s diverse weather patterns, ranging from tropical north to temperate south, along with its variable soil types, mean that not all grasses will thrive in all regions. As such, it is crucial for graziers to consider these climatic and soil factors when selecting or identifying pasture grasses. So in addition to learning the basics of pasture grasses, we'll also address these considerations.

Get ready to delve into the world of pasture grasses in Australia, exploring types, identification, and much more. 

Pasture Grass Identification in Australia

Pasture grass identification in Australia can be difficult as the diversity of Australian climates has led to a rich variety of pasture grasses in different regions. Common types include sorghum and sudangrass, suited to summer foraging, and ryegrass varieties, favoured for cooler, wetter climates. It's important to be able to differentiate them from common pasture weeds.

List of Pasture Grasses

Before we list the pasture grasses, let’s answer the question: What is pasture grass? Pasture grass solely refers to the variety of grasses used for grazing livestock. They’re typically palatable, nutritious, and suitable for forage. 

Here is a list of pasture grasses commonly found in Australia:

  • Sorghum 
  • Sudangrass 
  • Ryegrass varieties (italian, annual, and perennial)
  • Phalaris
  • Tall fescue 
  • Cocksfoot
  • Brome grass 

Identifying Pasture Grasses

The art of correctly identifying pasture grass in Australia is pivotal for creating the most beneficial feeding grazing plans for your cattle. A well-informed grasp of the diverse grass species populating your pasture will enable you to optimise your livestock's diet and also alert you to potential risks, such as the presence of toxic mould or other harmful feed contaminants.

Identifying these grasses involves observing certain characteristics. Each variety of grass has its own unique growth habits and nutritive benefits, and thrives under specific climatic conditions. For instance, sorghum features broad leaves and robust stems, whilst sudangrass has a high leaf-to-stem ratio. 

Remember, successful identification relies on observing these features in combination, considering other factors like time of year and local climate. 

Identification of grass species begins with understanding their physical characteristics - the shape and arrangement of their leaves, the colour and height of their stems, and the nature of their seed heads. 

Reference this guide from Massey University for added visual guides. In the meantime, here is a quick overview to find key characteristics of each pasture grass.

Type of Pasture Grass Key Characteristics and tips to identify them
Sorghum Broad leaves
Robust stems
Sudangras Broad leaves
High leaf to stem ratio
Hollow stem
Ryegrass Fine texture
Glossy underside
Folded vernation
Boat-shaped tip
Phalaris Thick blades
"Salmon-pink" base (when leaf is pulled from the sheath)
Flowers in 3-7 spikelets
Fescue Coarse texture
Prominent ridges on lead blades
Auricles clasp the stem
Brome Long, drooping leaves
Open panicle seed head
Hairy or awned lemmas

However, it's important to remember that grass characteristics can sometimes vary due to environmental conditions or variations within the species. For this reason, you might also want to consider investing in a pasture grass identification guide, such as this one from Agriculture Victoria, or consult an agronomist.

Types of Pasture Grass for Australian Conditions

As mentioned previously, each of these grasses provides different levels of nutritional value and has its own growing conditions. For instance, sorghum is known for its high drought tolerance, making it an excellent choice for dry, arid regions. 

Ryegrasses, on the other hand, are valued for their high-quality feed content, though their growth tends to be seasonal. Let’s review each one more thoroughly. 

Sorghum and Sudangrass: The Summer Forage Solution

Sorghum and Sudangrass stand out as popular summer forage solutions. These grasses are known for their rapid growth and robustness in the face of challenging conditions, such as drought. 

Sorghum, recognised by its broad leaves and sturdy stems, is resilient and provides ample feed during drier periods. The grass can be used as hay or fresh feed, and its high sugar content makes it palatable for cattle, thereby supporting feed intake during hot months. 

Sudangrass, on the other hand, has a higher leaf-to-stem ratio which makes it highly digestible, and subsequently, a valuable source of nutrition for your livestock. Unlike sorghum, which can be a dual-purpose crop (for feed and food), sudangrass is primarily used for grazing, hay, or silage, providing a reliable source of feed even during challenging summer conditions. 

Overall, sorghum and sudangrass offer a viable summer forage solution, capable of keeping your livestock nourished during tough Australian summers.

Forage Sorghum: The Nutrient-Rich Feed

Forage Sorghum, on the other hand, provides a nutrient-rich feed option and a go-to choice for many Australian graziers. It grows tall and thick, providing ample forage for grazing livestock. It's rich in vitamins and minerals, supporting the health and growth of your cattle, making it an excellent addition to any pasture.

A unique feature of forage sorghum is its high water-use efficiency, making it a superior option during periods of drought. To ensure optimum growth, it's best to sow sorghum in warm soils with a minimum temperature of 16°C, as it's sensitive to frost. 

It's recommended to delay harvesting until the plant is fully matured, to maximise nutrient content. 

Lastly, when it comes to productivity, this versatile forage offers a cost-effective forage production during dry months. Sorghum is approximately 30-40% more water-use efficient than corn, making it a suitable option particularly in the West and South

Ryegrass Varieties: Annual, Italian, Perennial, and Hybrid

Ryegrass varieties, such as the annual, Italian, perennial, and hybrid, offer a range of benefits. These grasses are valued for their high-quality feed content. They can establish quickly, provide excellent ground cover, and are highly palatable to cattle. 

However, they tend to be more suitable for cooler, wetter climates, so their performance may vary depending on your location.

Main Differences Between Annual, Italian, Perennial, and Hybrid Ryegrass

Annual ryegrass thrives in wetter climates, providing excellent ground cover and a high-quality feed source.

On the other hand, Italian ryegrass exhibits a strong growth performance in cooler conditions, is disease-resistant and holds its nutritional quality well into the winter months. 

Perennial ryegrass, a long-lived, high-quality pasture grass, delivers remarkable nutrition all year round and is palatable to livestock. It performs exceptionally well in areas with moderate temperatures and consistent rainfall. 

Lastly, hybrid ryegrass, a cross between Italian and perennial varieties, combines the vigour of Italian ryegrass and the persistence of perennial ryegrass. It's an excellent choice for soils with good drainage and offers exceptional winter growth.

Climatic and Soil Requirements

Regardless of the variety, ryegrass needs fertile soil, with a pH between 5.5 and 7.0, and performs best with adequate sunlight. By integrating ryegrass into your pastures, you can enhance soil health, improve livestock productivity and boost your overall pasture yield.

Phalaris, Tall Fescue, and Cocksfoot: The Hardy Choices

Phalaris, Tall Fescue, and Cocksfoot are more hardy choices for Australian pastures. They can tolerate harsh conditions such as drought, heat, and poor soil fertility. These grasses provide a consistent source of feed for your cattle, even when other grasses may be struggling.

Phalaris, known for its thick blades, grows best in well-drained soils and tolerates both salinity and waterlogging. It provides a persistent, high-quality feed source, especially in cooler climates. 

Tall fescue, a deep-rooted perennial, demonstrates remarkable drought resistance. It flourishes in a wide range of soils and provides good feed quality, although it can become coarse if not managed well. 

Cocksfoot is a strongly-tufted perennial, resilient in dry conditions and performs well on poorer soils. It offers robust growth during colder months, providing a valuable feed source when other grasses might be less productive. 

All three varieties are highly regarded for their adaptability and nutritional benefits, making them dependable choices for Australian graziers. Keep in mind, though, the importance of adequate management practices to maintain the feed quality of these hardy grasses.

Brome Grass and its Role in Grazing Systems

Finally, Brome Grass is another excellent choice for grazing systems and a strong contender across Australia. It's a cool-season grass that can provide high-quality forage in the cooler months and varieties of soil. Brome Grass is particularly suitable for rotational grazing systems and can significantly increase pasture productivity when managed correctly.

To ensure optimal growth and yield, managing brome grass effectively is crucial. Regular grazing or cutting can maintain a leafy and highly digestible sward, supporting a high feed intake amongst your livestock. 

Do note that care should be taken to prevent overgrazing, and allowing adequate recovery time for the grass to maintain its vigour is critical. By incorporating brome grass into your grazing system and managing it effectively, you can add diversity to your pasture and sustain a reliable source of cattle feed in the cooler months.

The Best Grass for Cattle in Australia

Identifying the most advantageous grass for cattle in Australia is not a one-size-fits-all task. It involves taking into account various parameters such as the climate of your grazing land and the specific nutritional requirements of your livestock. 

Each variety of grass offers unique nutritional benefits, growth habits, and resilience to certain climatic conditions. 

Pasture Grass Choices for Cooler and Wetter Regions of Australia

Perennial ryegrass, for instance, is frequently heralded for its superior feed value. This type of grass tends to be very palatable to cattle, offering a high nutritional content that can contribute to improved livestock health and productivity. 

However, it's worth noting that ryegrass typically performs better in cooler, wetter regions, so its success may vary across different parts of Australia. 

Pasture Grass Choices for Drier Conditions in Australia

In contrast, if you're grappling with drier conditions, sorghum might be a more fitting choice. With a noteworthy ability to withstand drought, sorghum offers an element of hardiness that's incredibly beneficial in more arid areas. 

Not only does sorghum provide a reliable source of feed during dry periods, but its high leaf-to-stem ratio also makes it highly digestible, offering considerable nourishment to your livestock during challenging climatic times. 

Selecting the Best Cattle Grass

When selecting grass for beef cattle, the emphasis should be on energy-dense varieties to promote weight gain and overall growth. Sorghum, sudangrass and the nutrient-rich forage sorghum can be beneficial. 

For dairy cattle, consider high-quality feed grasses that can support milk production. Ryegrass varieties, particularly perennial and hybrid, can contribute significantly in this regard. The resilience of phalaris, tall fescue, and cocksfoot makes them a reliable feed source year-round. 

The high-quality forage of brome grass, especially in cooler months, is another added advantage for dairy cattle. 

Ultimately, the 'best' grass is one that not only thrives in your specific location but also meets the nutritional needs of your cows, supports their overall health, and contributes to the overall profitability of your enterprise. Whether it's ryegrass, sorghum, or another variety altogether, the ideal grass for your cattle is one that complements and enhances your overall grazing system.

Key Takeaways

Understanding the diversity of pasture grasses and their individual strengths is vital in building an efficient grazing system. Climate plays a substantial role in determining which grass types will flourish, underlining the need to choose varieties that can thrive in your specific regional conditions. 

Equally important is the resilience of the grass type, particularly in the face of challenging Australian weather, including drought and high temperatures. Last but not least, the nutritional value that each grass provides for your livestock should not be overlooked. 

Every grass species has its unique nutritive profile and it is crucial to select grasses that cater to the specific nutritional needs of your cattle. Keep these key points in mind as you manage and develop your pasture for a more profitable and sustainable grazing operation.


Navigating the myriad of challenges that Australian graziers face can seem daunting, from climate-induced fluctuations to nutrition-related livestock health concerns. Nonetheless, selecting the appropriate pasture grass plays a pivotal role in overcoming these issues. 

It's not just about identifying the grass species that are suited to the local environment, but also understanding their nutritional profiles and how they can contribute to the wellbeing of your livestock. 

Remember, a resilient, nutritious, and diverse pasture can significantly enhance the efficiency of your grazing operation in Australia. Therefore, investing time and effort in understanding and improving your pasture is a commitment to the health of your livestock and the longevity of your business. 

So, keep exploring, keep learning, and embrace the incredible diversity that Australian pasture grasses offer. As you continue your journey as a grazier, let your pasture guide you towards a sustainable and profitable future.

Put it into Action

Begin the process of identifying the grass species populating your pasture, assessing how effectively they meet your cattle's nutritional requirements. It's never too late to enhance your pasture, be it by introducing new varieties of grass or fine-tuning the management of your existing vegetation. 

Getting started with selecting the right pasture grasses requires research and observation. Here are the suggested steps to follow:

  1. Assess your soil type and local climate. 
  2. Determine the nutritional needs of your cattle. 
  3. Research grass species: Familiarise yourself with the different types of grasses discussed in this article, their growth habits, nutritional benefits, and climate preferences.
  4. Shortlist suitable grasses: Based on your findings, identify potential grass species that could meet your needs.
  5. Test soil fertility: This helps ensure your selected grasses can flourish. 
  6. Plant and monitor: Plant your selected grasses and closely monitor their growth, adaptability, and the cattle’s preference for these grasses. 

In terms of pasture management, a rotational grazing system can help ensure each section of your pasture gets a rest period, promoting regrowth. Regular soil testing can identify any nutrient deficiencies, allowing you to take corrective action to prevent pasture issues

Lastly, consider rejuvenation practices like reseeding to maintain a productive and nutritious pasture.

Every decision you make leads you further down the path towards a more sustainable and profitable cattle enterprise. So, embark on this journey, continue to educate yourself and embrace the diverse range of pasture grasses at your disposal. 

Try MaiaGrazing

MaiaGrazing is grazing management software that guides you to make better decisions for higher profits, healthier animals and more resilient pastures. Ultimately, it helps you to optimise your grazing operation. 

When you use MaiaGrazing, you’ll see these benefits:

  • Maximise your livestock’s potential
  • Boost carrying capacity of your land
  • Optimise paddock yield
  • Minimise feeding costs
  • Capture data for seasonal planning and adjustment
  • Manage your grazing to retain and build soil carbon

Subscribe to newsletter

Subscribe to receive the latest blog posts to your inbox every week.

Other Blog Posts

Grow more grass and add more kilos of beef today

Get a demo from our team, or start for free with MaiaGrazing Lite!