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Sowing herbs to fill the summer feed gap

Sowing herbs to fill the summer feed gap

Sowing herbs to fill the summer feed gap

Ryegrass has a shallow rooting system that makes the plants susceptible to drought and damage from pests such as grass grub. During hot dry summers, perennial ryegrasses stop growing or slow considerably, restricting grazing options as lambs need fattening and demand to feed other livestock grows.

Supplying quality feed after Christmas to the beginning of the autumn can be tough, so what can be sown stand-alone or within a pasture mix to complement pasture grazing that is tolerant to drought and subterranean pest attacks?

An option is sowing herbs, commonly plantain or chicory. Sow as a pure sward or in a mix of clover or grasses. Chicory is a high-quality forage with fast growth from spring to autumn and it has good drought tolerance as it produces a tap root. Plantain offers cool season growth with good drought tolerance as it has a large fibrous root system.

Both chicory and plantain boost animal intake and performance and have a high mineral content. Commonly, chicory is a six-month to one-year crop and plantain is two to three years. In the past, there have been issues around the lack of herbicide options, but more are now available.

Plantain can be used in deer, beef, sheep, and dairy systems and some varieties are better than others in their resilience and production. Often livestock perform better with the inclusion of clover as this has the potential to improve liveweight gain, nitrogen fixation, and ground cover which helps reduce weed burden. As plantain yields approximately 8 to 14 tonnes of dry matter (DM) and a metabolisable energy (ME) content of 11 to 12 megajoules (MJ) per kg of DM, grazing management must be controlled. Sow plantain where longer-term and/or cool-season production is important. Recent work from Agricom shows the variety Ecotain has the potential to reduce nitrate leaching thus having an environmental gain where this is a problem.

Chicory, as with plantain, suits deer, beef, sheep, and dairy systems. It offers reliable production in summer dry conditions producing a DM yield of between 8 to 15 tonnes of DM per ha in six to seven months, with an ME of 11.5 to 13 MJ per kg of DM at a time when unirrigated ryegrass can struggle.

Chicory and plantain tips:

  • Plantain and chicory require good seedbeds for successful establishment. If possible, spray out the previous crop or pasture with quality glyphosate, adding a broadleaf spike if needed. Be careful of any residual herbicidal activity from the spike that may be detrimental to the herb and clover mix.
  • Plant herb and clover seeds no deeper than 15 mm. Using a roller drill is best.
  • Beware of slugs at establishment. Treat with bait as required.
  • Graze first when the crop reaches six to seven true leaves.

Contact your local PGG Wrightson Technical Field Representative, who can help you plan your crop rotation.