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Beyond the Bale : March 2015
50 ON FARM Two research projects are under way to quantify and improve the production potential of sheep grazing biserrula-based pastures, which could help producers across southern Australia save on input costs by using biserrula as an on-demand break option in crop-pasture rotations. The two Charles Sturt University (CSU)-based research projects are ‘Pasture legumes in the mixed farming zone of WA and NSW – shifting the baseline’ led by Dr Belinda Hackney (AWI/MLA funded) and ‘Understanding photosensitisation in livestock grazing the pasture legume Biserrula pelecinus’ (MLA funded) led by Dr Jane Quinn. These projects are also evaluating possible outbreaks of primary photosensitisation in animals grazing this biserrula. The CSU researchers are working extensively with colleagues in Western Australia, specifically Professor John Howieson of Murdoch University, and Dr Brad Nutt and Dr Angelo Loi of DAFWA, as part of a national project. This current research builds on previous projects part-funded by AWI into biserrula, including the National Annual Pasture Legume Improvement Project (NAPLIP) and Pastures Australia project. Biserrula is a resilient hard-seeded annual legume that is well suited to use in crop- pasture rotations as an on-demand break option due to its ability to regenerate without the need for resowing following a cropping phase. The time between initial sowing and re-emergence can be considerable with the re-emerging pasture exhibiting vigorous early season growth. In NSW, on-farm research has shown that biserrula is capable of regenerating after four years without seed-set. In WA, strong regeneration has been recorded seven years after initial seed-set. Using biserrula as an on-demand break option in a crop-pasture rotation system significantly reduces input costs by removing the need to resow pasture after the cropping phase as well as allowing maximal flexibility in terms of altering the crop to pasture / crop to livestock ratio of an individual farm in a very short timeframe. THE RESEARCH Whilst in an agronomic sense there are significant benefits to the inclusion of biserrula in mixed farming system, little information has been available on the performance of livestock grazing biserrula pastures. This spring, the performance of Merino ewes with lambs at foot was assessed in a grazing experiment at CSU in Wagga Wagga with incidence and severity of any photosensitisation recorded. A replicated on-farm grazing trial of prime lambs was also undertaken at Beckom, NSW. The results of these investigations show similar positive trends. The CSU experiment consisted of four replicates each of the biserrula varieties ‘Casbah’ and ‘Mauro’. These varieties differ slightly in terms of early vigour, time to maturity and hard seed levels. No studies had compared animal performance on both varieties to date although both are being used in cropping / livestock production both in WA and NSW. Sheep were grazed for a period of six weeks commencing in late September through to the end of October (plots were in the early stages of flowering at the commencement of the experiment). The average stocking rate across the site for the duration of the experiment was 17 DSE/ha. In addition to sheep grazing the biserrula plots, the remainder of the Merino ewe-lamb flock, grazing on naturalised, volunteer pastures typical of the majority of pastures in the region (predominately annual ryegrass, barley grass, sub clover and volunteer legumes), were also weighed to compare performance. THE RESULTS Daily liveweight gain for lambs and ewes is shown in Figure 1 below. Lambs grazing biserrula gained 265 g/head/day while lambs on the volunteer pasture grew at less than half this rate (120 g/head/day). Ewes on biserrula gain an average of 210 g/head/day while ewes on the volunteer pasture lost 75g/head/day. Interestingly, a relative increase in weight gain was recorded in plots where there was presence of other pasture species; in this trial this was predominately annual ryegrass. In plots where annual ryegrass was present as a volunteer species at more than 10% of feed on offer, weight gains were up to 30 g/ SHEEP PRODUCTION • Producers can save on input costs by using biserrula as an on-demand break option in crop-pasture rotation. • In a recent research trial run by Charles Sturt University, Merino lambs gained 265 g/head/day on biserrula pasture compared to their counterparts who gained 120 g/head/ day on a typical volunteer pasture during the same period. • Lactating Merino ewes gained an average of 210 g/head/day while ewes grazing naturalised volunteer pastures lost 75 g/head/day. • Increased weight gains were recorded in sheep grazing plots that contained 90% or less biserrula indicating increased weight gain is possible on mixed pastures possibly due to the ability of the animal to select a better protein-energy balance in the diet. • Mixed pastures also significantly reduced the incidence of photosensitisation. -100 Lambs Ewes Volunteer pasture Biserrula -50 0 50 100 150 200 250 300 Figure 1. Daily liveweight gain in Merino lambs and lactating Merino ewes grazing either biserrula or volunteer pasture over a six week period at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga in spring 2014. ON BISERRULA