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Beyond the Bale : March 2015
ON FARM 45 “T he February, March, April period can be pretty light on for tucker, so if you’ve got forage shrubs on your marginal land that’s got to be a good thing.” So says woolgrower Greg Richards of Quairading, 150km east of Perth in the Western Australian wheatbelt, who is making the 400 ha of salt-affected land on his farm more productive – and profitable – by planting perennial shrubs as additional green feed for his sheep. In the spring of 2010, Greg had the opportunity to begin a grazing trial as part of the Future Farm Industries CRC’s Enrich program, which was partly funded by AWI. PLANTING THE SHRUBS A 20 ha trial paddock was selected that used to be cropped but had gradually become unprofitable for cropping and more difficult to manage. It wasn’t particularly saline but probably had the potential to become so if it was not better managed. Greg then split the paddock into four smaller paddocks of about 4 ha each and planted four species of shrubs (old man saltbush, river saltbush, ruby saltbush and rhagodia) in rows, with about five metres between each row which was sown with a mix of annual pastures, including barley and ryegrass. The shrubs were planted using a tree planter and then watered in. “It was dry when we planted the shrubs and I am surprised any of them grew at all,” Greg says. “It ended up being the driest year on record so obviously the shrubs are tough and hardy as they did not receive a lot of rain in the first year.” Merino wethers grazed the paddock during autumn 2012, only 18 months after planting. “Each 4 ha paddock was subdivided using temporary electric fences so we could graze the shrubs at a high stocking rate to reduce selective grazing. About 20 sheep strip grazed each section before being moved after a week which enabled excellent utilisation of all the shrub species. The stocking rate was about 70 DSE/ha. “They ended up grazing the trial paddocks for eight weeks all up. Even after we had finished the experiment, there remained shrubs which had not yet been grazed.” RESULTS OF GRAZING The quality of the forage shrubs and inter- row pasture allowed the sheep to gain nearly three kilograms of liveweight through the eight-week trial period, without any supplementary feeding and at a time when feed quality and quantity would normally limit animal performance. In contrast, the control sheep required grain supplementation to maintain weight (receiving about 15 kg grain/head over the eight weeks). The shrubs also provided a beneficial microclimate, reducing wind speed and providing shade, which is not only beneficial to the sheep but can also reduce evaporation from the soil and help maintain pasture cover. “The forage shrubs have improved the marginal land because before, the land was bare and now it has some green cover on it – the sheep are loving it,” Greg says. “I can see its potential for all my marginal land, which have previously been difficult to manage profitably. My aim is to slowly keep planting shrubs and make use of these areas. “I’ve been telling neighbours you can get these shrubs, put them in and make marginal lands productive again. The shrubs have been good value, adding extra feed during the dry autumn months. If we do get an early break, grazing of these shrubs allows my other annual pastures to get growing before being grazed.” The trial has also showed the sheep grazing forage shrubs did not produce any more methane than sheep grazing the control paddock, despite the increased liveweight gain of the shrub-fed sheep. This means the amount of methane per unit of weight gain in the shrub groups was cut to about one-third of the control group, indicating increased digestive efficiency. Quairading farmer Greg Richards, with Samantha Bickell (University of WA), was encouraged by the results of an Enrich project on his farm. PHOTO:Dean Revell VALUE OF GRAZING SHRUBS TRIAL PROVES Greg Richards of Quairading in Western Australia took part in a grazing trial as part of the Future Farm Industries CRC’s Enrich program. Perennial shrubs that he planted on salt-affected land on his farm is making the land more profitable by providing extra green feed for his sheep during the dry autumn months.