Generally, if a farmer were to graze their cereal crops it would be prior to stem elongation (GS31) to avoid penalties to grain yield, or they would use the crop as pasture and graze two or three times until biomass was exhausted.
However, the project ‘Using standing crops to finish lambs and improve summer groundcover and soil health’ funded by National Landcare Program – Smart Farms, challenges the status quo to utilise the crop in a different way: grazing crops after flowering or after grain fill.
The purpose of grazing a standing crop is to fill a feed gap. Pastures can be sprayed out in early spring for cropping rotation benefits, or naturally senesce in late spring, creating a feed gap until stubbles are available after harvest. Through summer, the bulk of the feed value of stubbles is exhausted once unharvested heads and split grains have been picked up.
“Whether it’s still a green crop post flowering or a mature crop that has set grain, with strategic management, standing crops are a large fodder bank that can be used for feeding lambing ewes, weaning lambs onto, or for finishing lambs” says project manager Alison Frischke, Birchip Cropping Group (BCG),
“The project demonstrates the feed value of standing crops, how to manage the crop and animals for best production outcomes and maintaining groundcover and discusses how different sheep behave on a mature crop and when supplementation may be required” she added.
Some growers have been grazing crops during grain fill and to maturity, allowing them to plan feed paddocks for sheep later in the season, or salvaging crops for feed when the season isn’t favourable. Lawloit farmer Alan Bennett is one of these growers and will be at the BCG’s Main Field Day talking about his experiences grazing different mature crops from spring to autumn. Ms Frischke and Mr Bennett will be presenting the session ‘Grazing sheep on standing crops post flowering’ as part of the site tour sessions.
The BCG Main Field Day is on Wednesday September 11 at the BCG Main Research Site, 9 km west of Birchip, on the Sunraysia Highway. For more information about the event visit www.bcg.org.au/events or phone 03 5492 2787.