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Beyond the Bale : February 2010
February 2010 BEYOND THE BALE WOOL PRODUCTION After tempting the tastebuds of Italian cows for some time, sulla could soon be aiding Australian sheep in their weight gain while finding a home in the Australian dryland cropping pasture rotation. Researchers are currently developing the agronomy package for three Australian- bred cultivars of sulla (Hedysarum coronarium), as part of the Pastures Australia program, which was funded by AWI, the Grains Research and Development Corporation and Meat & Livestock Australia. A short-lived, deep-rooted herbaceous perennial legume originating from temperate Europe, sulla has a long history of being used for hay, silage and cut green feed production in Italy. It is also grown in New Zealand, where it is credited with good sheep production results measured through improved fertility, live- weight gains, reduced worm burdens and increased wool production. However, senior research officer Dr Carolyn de Koning, from the South Sulla: a new pasture with opportunities FAST FACTS l Sulla is a nitrogen-fixing, tap-rooted plant that offers livestock and hay- production opportunities. l Trials with ewe hoggets grazing sulla produced better sheep and wool growth rates than the control pasture group. l An agronomy package for three Australian-bred varieties of sulla is currently being developed. 19 Trials of sulla show that it offers income generation through grazing, with enhanced sheep and wool growth rates and minimised scouring. Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), says the three Australian- developed cultivars -- Wilpena, Moonbi and Flamenco -- have greater herbage and seed-production qualities compared to overseas cultivars and are well adapted to Australian climatic conditions. "Not only does sulla fix nitrogen, it also has a well-developed taproot which, following the death of the plant, creates biopores in the soil, allowing better infiltration of rainfall and reduced run-off," she says. While providing rotational benefits to cereals, sulla also offers an income stream through grazing opportunities to finish livestock, with trials showing enhanced growth rates and minimised scouring. Dr de Koning says the high palatability of sulla means livestock will selectively graze it. In a trial at the Turretfield Research Centre at Rosedale, in South Australia, sheep reduced the content of sulla-based pastures from 46 per cent to 18 per cent in eight weeks of continuous winter grazing. Sulla has a similar nutritive value to lucerne, but does not lead to bloating in livestock. The grazing experiment at Turretfield compared sulla-based pasture with a grass/ subclover pasture (control). It was found that sulla produced better growth rates in sheep (144 grams per head per day compared with 103g/head/day), and wool growth with sulla-grazed sheep produced 2.12 millimetre longer wool (approximately 300g extra/head of greasy wool weight) on ewe hoggets than the control pasture group. After eight weeks of grazing during winter, on average sulla-grazed sheep were 2.65 kilograms per head (liveweight) heavier than the control pasture sheep. "Both pasture types were of similar nutritive value at the start of grazing. Another interesting aspect was that 25 per cent of control pasture sheep had dags at the end of grazing compared with only four per cent of the sulla-grazed sheep," Dr de Koning says. Suited to areas with 400 to 800mm average annual rainfall, sulla prefers slightly acid to alkaline sandy loams, loams and clays, and does not like waterlogging, saline or sodic soils. The more alkaline the soil the better. For good establishment sulla requires a well-prepared, weed-free seed bed. Southern Australia can be sown in autumn or late winter/early spring; autumn sowing is preferable in northern NSW and southern Queensland. It should be rotationally grazed to maintain persistence. "First year growth can appear slow, mainly due to plants establishing their taproot. Second year growth is rapid as plants regrow from established crowns and high dry matter can be produced," Dr de Koning says. Growing from 0.5 to 1.2 metres tall, the plant is capable of high dry matter (DM) production and winter production of more than five tonnes DM per hectare has been measured in SA, NSW and Queensland. The leaf protein levels exceed 25 per cent and DM digestibility is up to 70 per cent. More information: Dr Carolyn de Koning, SARDI, firstname.lastname@example.org
September November 2009