The two main improved pasture herbs commonly used in NZ are chicory and plantain. Originally used as part of a pasture mix they are increasingly used as a 2-3 year crop in many summer dry areas.
Chicory is a perennial tap-rooted herb able to produce high yields, perform in dry summers and provide higher quality forage than summer pasture. It has been reported as one of the forages most preferred by deer. It is more digestible than ryegrass and plantain. Chicory may be broken down faster in the rumen by deer enabling a higher intake and less grazing time. Higher liveweight gains have been reported from chicory compared to perennial ryegrass in all seasons. Chicory is also dormant over winter therefore grazing needs to be avoided to prevent damage to the crown of the plant.
Plantain has been a minor component of many improved pastures since about 1990. The most common cultivar is Tonic, an erect large-leaved plant that has improved winter growth rates. The imported cultivars have different morphology and may be winter dormant. Plantain is tolerant of a wide range of soil types and more drought tolerant than ryegrass. It is highly palatable to all stock and is likely to be selectively grazed in a mixed sward. Plantain also contains antimicrobials and condensed tannins that may have positive impacts on animal performance, such as reducing parasite levels.
Potential plantain yields and persistence are relatively unknown although recent DairyNZ work reported about 17-19 T DM/ha/yr.
The best management of plantain stands for deer has yet to be well defined. Better liveweight gains have been achieved on taller plantain stands (11cm v 6 cm). Grazing duration to maintain height and quality is important as the quality declines as leaves age and seed heads form. Seed heads are less likely to be grazed which will allow reseeding which is one method of improving stand life. A long period of spelling from grazing is then required to allow seedlings to develop.