Closing the feed gap

By Country News

Filling the pasture-based feed gap during winter can be a real inhibitor of profitability for many beef operations in the southern regions of Australia, according to a 2017 Nuffield scholar.

Stuart Tait, who was supported by Meat & Livestock Australia, conducted global research into cost-effective ways to manage and fill the seasonal feed gap in pasture-based beef systems.

Mr Tait manages his family’s mixed enterprise across three properties on the NSW Central Tablelands, and his desire to develop a more profitable farming system and boost the business’ productivity motivated his Nuffield research.

‘‘Beating seasonality and developing a year-round solution to fill the seasonal feed gap was a key focus of my research,’’ he said.

‘‘I looked at innovative ways to overcome difficult autumn conditions, such as stockpiling pasture, self-feeding silage pits and bale grazing.’’

Mr Tait’s report makes a number of recommendations about increased data analysis and flexible enterprise mixes, and has examples of annual forage sequences that allow for pasture-based production throughout the year, including the use of dual-purpose winter wheat to restart the crop cycle after perennial pasture.

‘‘The forage sequences leverage productive species like cocksfoot, lucerne and chicory through spring and summer, with dual-purpose wheat filling the feed curve through winter,’’ he said.

‘‘I started this journey to investigate dual-purpose cropping systems, but it quickly became clear that the best results are achieved when we look at the overall beef forage system, including everything from paddock subdivision to technology and data analysis.’’

Another key finding of the report involves the method of pasture stockpiling, which is becoming increasingly popular in North America in the place of expensive hay making.

In addition, while visiting a number of ranchers and consultants on the prairies of western Canada, Mr Tait observed the method of swath grazing, used to stockpile feed for the harsh Canadian winter.

Swath grazing involves swathing pasture or annual crops, like oats, into windrows prior to winter. The swathes are left in situ, and snap freeze at the onset of winter.

‘‘Back home, there is potential for this method to be applied to perennial grasses like phalaris, following spring periods of excessive growth. The stockpiles could then be used during the autumn period for non-lactating pregnant cows.’’

Mr Tait said his research was borne from the simple understanding that increasingly, producers needed to do more with what they had.

‘‘No-one is making any more farmland, so we must make the most of the land we have.

‘‘If we can develop a resilient and simple year-round forage-based grazing system, that encompasses a range of techniques and approaches, then we’ll be better placed to run productive, profitable beef enterprises for generations to come.’’