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Beyond the Bale : March 2018
Filling the late summer/early autumn feed gap is a constant challenge for woolgrowers in dryland farming regions, particularly Western Australia’s central wheatbelt. With limited nutritional value available in a dry stubble paddock, purchasing and planning for alternative feed sources such as hay and grain can be costly and unpredictable. Many woolgrowers are turning to perennial plants, such as AnamekaTM saltbush, to close this feed gap and provide an alternative source of nutrition for their livestock. Commercialised by CSIRO in 2014 after 10 years of research, AnamekaTM has been ticking many boxes for woolgrowers, being a successful feed source in both mid-summer and autumn when there is a feed shortage, and also used in the lead up to seeding time when sheep flocks are relocated out of grain paddocks. Tammin woolgrowers Rodney and Janet Stokes planted 60 ha of salt-affected land to AnamekaTM saltbush almost four years ago, not long after it was made commercially available. Within six months, their Merino- based flock was happily grazing on the bushes. Rodney believes the plantation has been such an effective strategy for his business that he is planning to double his area of saltbush plantings in the coming 12 months. He estimates his saltbush plantation provides approximately five kilojoules of energy to each sheep daily. “Each sheep requires a daily intake of around 12-13 kilojoules, or up to 28 kilojoules during lambing, to stay in good condition, meaning we still need to supplement the feed throughout autumn, usually with hay and grain,” he says. “But having the saltbush available as another feed source is an important tool for our sheep business. “It also allows us to free up paddocks we need to spray or clean up in the pre-seeding period.” The Stokes’ farm is approximately 180km east of Perth, where the saline Mortlock River riverbed dominates the landscape. Large areas of the property will never be productive cropping land because of this dried up river system. But it’s the perfect environment for the AnamekaTM saltbush, and Rodney’s plantation is a green healthy oasis against the dry stubble in the dusty paddocks surrounding it. The region often receives less than 300mm annual rainfall, and this plant appears to not only survive, but thrive in the tough conditions. Rodney says the plantation is a long-term strategy, with each plant costing around 75 cents. “It is an expensive investment initially but over five or six years, we believe we will be in front financially given that saltbush will fill a significant percentage of this autumn feed gap,” he says. “But that aside, this area of land is unproductive for anything other than bluebush or saltbush, and so it didn’t take much convincing for us to plant the area out to the new AnamekaTM variety.” Typically, 800-1,000 plants are required per hectare, but this rate is often lower in the more saline areas. With a tractor drawn mechanical tree planter, Tammin woolgrower Rodney Stokes in his AnamekaTM saltbush plantation. The AnamekaTM saltbush. It ticks all the boxes for digestibility, palatability and bio mass. Four years after the release of a new and easily digestible saltbush variety, woolgrowers are making otherwise unproductive agricultural land profitable, particularly in mixed cropping and livestock businesses. 40 ON FARM
In the Shops - March 2018