By Wayne Nichol, Extension Agronomist and Nutritionist, PGG Wrightson Seeds
In many regions where we’ve had decent rain, pasture management decisions have quickly gone from dealing with a feed deficit to a feed surplus. Adding to the challenge is the annual ‘crash’ in feed quality as grasses move through their seeding phase. Ways to keep on top of excessive pasture growth and seedhead include extra stock pressure (more mouths per hectare), conserving pasture as baleage, silage or hay and/or dropping paddocks out for cropping or re-grassing.
Spring sown Pallaton Raphno® will be responding well to recent rain too - and may be close to a first grazing. So here’s the dilemma – we need stock pressure to keep up with a pasture surplus but we also need stock to graze the Pallaton Raphno® before the crop gets too tall. Which is more important, keeping up with pasture growth or grazing the Pallaton Raphno®? The answer is both and presents us with a massive opportunity to be more strategic in our feed allocation, allowing prioritisation of stock feeding according to which stock class will give us the best return on investment.
IMAGE: Pallaton Raphno laxly grazed (left) compared with hard grazed (right)
Firstly we need to prioritise the first grazing of Pallaton Raphno®. Past experience has shown that deferring the first grazing of Raphno® until later in the season can unwanted have implications for animal performance (due to stem development and loss of whole plant quality), as well as persistence of the Pallaton Raphno® plant. By meeting pre and post grazing targets of your Raphno® crop now (using the Pallaton Raphno® road cone as a guide) you’ll achieve better performance by weaned lambs and cattle performance on Pallaton Raphno® regrowth during the summer. This can be critical if there are no alternative summer feed options due to pastures suffering from summer heat or you’re aiming to avoid health issues associated with summer pasture such as internal parasite burdens and/or facial eczema.
At this time of year for sheep farmers, the greatest opportunity to put weight on lambs is when on they are still on mum. She requires the highest value feed, especially ewes with multiples and hoggets with lambs at foot. The answer is to run ewes with lambs at foot on your absolutely best quality pasture – delivering plenty of energy and protein for this high priority stock class.
Secondly, what about keeping on top of pasture quality? Consider using cattle (if available or can be bought in), with cattle better suited than ewes or lambs to controlling stemmy pasture. Give single bearing ewes the opportunity to selectively graze the higher quality components of the pasture sward such as green leaf, clover and herbs then tidy up residuals with cattle. Alternatively, make silage or hay with any feed surplus or increase stock pressure by summer fallowing any paddocks to be autumn sown in pasture or crop. It is critical to do feed budgets and make management decisions now, as this will ultimately improve pasture and animal productivity in the future.