Missed the winter crop window?
17 Aug 2022
Ag Advice - August 2022
Phil Cranney, Senior Land Services Officer - Pastures
What are your forage options for growing quality green forage to graze in late November to late January?
Wet paddocks have meant farmers from the Central Slopes to the higher altitude Central Tablelands cannot get on to plant their usual area of winter forage crops. Forage quantity is rarely an issue in these wet seasons; however, quality remains the biggest hand brake for many livestock systems going into summer.
If we assume that most paddocks won’t dry out until late September, let's look at our options for short term green forage.
Firstly, it is a great time to revisit your feed demands for each enterprise. Most livestock numbers are known by now, input scanning rates, lambing marking rates, and the number of female replacements that are in the system. Calculate your total DSE’s per month for the next six months. Then split the livestock numbers into three different categories. High-quality feed demand (lactating animals, young stock and finishing stock), medium-quality feed demand (e.g. breeding stock with low fat scores), low-quality feed demand (e.g. over fat breeders).
This will give you a more detailed overview of where the pain points are for your feed quality supply curve. If you have identified that you have very few animals in the high-quality feed demand category for the months of November through to March, then you could probably stop reading this article. However, despite our best efforts to balance feed supply with demand, we usually have some months in summer where a particular enterprise needs good quality feed. This season may be worse than others, given the poor establishment of clovers that usually provide decent feed quality in late spring and even early summer in the higher areas with the late maturing varieties.
The king of fodder, lucerne, usually fills the high-quality feed gap void in these warmer months, especially for sheep producers. However, the threat of bloat means that many cattle producers cannot rely on lucerne due to the health risk it poses. Lucerne also struggles to grow in acidic soils; therefore, many farmers must look at other options.
Here are some short-term forage species options and minimum soil temperatures for the farmers to contemplate:
- Brassica (turnips and rape) – Soil temp 10deg and rising
- Chicory – Soil temp 12deg and rising, minimal frost tolerance
- Millet – Soil temp 14deg and rising, no frosts
- Sorghum - Soil temp 16 -18deg and rising, no frosts
- Lab lab – Soil temp 18deg and rising, no frosts
- Cow peas – Soil temp 18deg and rising, no frosts
While chicory and brassicas would be considered the highest quality forages from this list, it also about what other options you already have in your pasture paddocks and winter crop residues. Feed quality requirements are relative to livestock demands and the current feed base of your farm.
Some management considerations for these summer crop options:
- Talk to your local vet about nitrate and prussic acid poisoning and photosensitisation risk for various livestock classes and summer fodder species, as there are ways of reducing this risk.
- Chicory cannot be planted in a paddock with a history of thistles as there are selective herbicides available for control.
- The small seeds of brassica (turnips and rape) and chicory need a fine tilth seed bed and shallow seed placement for good establishment.
- Consider single species plantings, as they offer a broader range of selective herbicides for weed control.
- Soil tests to ensure you have adequate soil nutrients for growing conditions, e.g. soil nitrogen levels may be depleted due to leaching and denitrification.
- Also, if you need large amounts of nitrogen, it is best to put it in the ground at planting to minimise the risk of nitrogen loss through volatilisation through surface spreading in hot windy conditions.
- Care must be taken to reduce the risk of seed burn from high rates of nitrogen too close to the seed at planting. Offset fertiliser placement sowing equipment reduces this risk.
- Brassicas, lab lab and cow peas will be more sensitive to acid soils than the millet, sorghum and chicory.
- Choose paddocks that can easily be divided up with temporary fencing to maximise utilisation and ensure adequate rest periods for regrowth, particularly for the chicory and brassicas.
- Forage quality can be controlled by how well you manage the rest periods for each species. Too long a rest may result in too much wastage and lower quality, whereas too short a rest period may lead to livestock health issues and lower fodder biomass production.
There are other benefits to growing a summer crop, including the opportunity to clean up a paddock that has a history of annual winter grass weeds like vulpia and barley grass. You could also target annual summer grass weeds like black grass and hairy panic, by planting brassica or cow peas to have post emergent grass weed control options that you may not have in your millet or sorghum crops.
Short maturity crops like millet also give you the option to double crop into a winter crop variety in April or May, given enough soil moisture.
Do not forget, mud is better than dust. The trick is to be flexible and take advantage of the moisture while it lasts, remember utilisation is the key to profitability/Ha.
Further reading - Fill the summer/autumn feed gap; EverGraze
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