Filling the feed gap

DIVERSE OPTIONS: The oats, peas and clover targeted silage crop option, late sown targeted for use in the following autumn.

This is the third of a series of articles prepared by Gambier Seeds to feature in the On the Land section of The Border Watch in 2021. The focus of these articles is to assist farmers to optimise productivity from their pasture and forage bases.

At Gambier Seeds we believe that pastures and pasture renovation are an investment, not only in your farm production and profitability, but in its future.

IN THIS article we look at options for filling the late autumn/winter feed gap.

This period is when paddock feed is at its lowest, but feed demand is increasing.

It is generally the busiest time on most farms.

Weather, the critical factor, is consistently unreliable.

It is my opinion, and recommendation to my clients, that the easiest and most reliable way to fill the autumn/early winter feed gap is to carry over the required fodder from the previous spring.

We will discuss this strategy further in a later article.

For now, we will focus on what strategies we have available to us over the next few months.

There are several options available to help lift forage and pasture production during this period.

These include:

* Strategic fertiliser use – primarily nitrogen.

* Seeding strategic fodder crops for grazing at a set time.

* “Bulking up” existing pasture.

* Seeding high production winter annual pastures and crops.

* Use of deferred grazing to build a feed wedge.

Deferred grazing involves use of containment paddocks.

Stock are fed in these designated areas until grazing paddocks have a level of cover (leaf area) that allows them to optimise production going forward.

Many already use this strategy quite effectively for maternal stock.

The key to success with this strategy is having correct quantity and quality of conserved feed for the containment period.

This is all about planning and set up.

In our current season, it requires self-control to not graze the green feed present now in paddocks, until the plants have reached their optimum grazing stage.

Allowing them to grow out prior to a light grazing will result in higher growth rates in April/May as they will come out of dormancy faster.

Strategic nitrogen use requires optimal soil moisture conditions to be cost effective.

Nitrogen use is most economical where applied to responsive pastures or crops and as part of a total nutrient strategy.

We will discuss its use further in an article in April.

Over sowing existing pastures is about ensuring pastures have maximum density.

Bare ground does not grow feed.

Waiting for pastures to thicken up takes time and is a slow process through the winter months.

Where pastures are thin, they can be oversown “dry” with annual or short rotation ryegrasses/clovers.

In some situations, cereals can be used and even broad cast if conditions suit.

Seeding high production winter annual crops involves seeding of specific annual ryegrass and clover winter mixes to give high quality, responsive pastures, for grazing through the winter months and with fodder conservation potential in the spring.

The option chosen is generally around the required level of production and soil type and conditions.

These winter mixes can be seeded with cereals to increase the early feed produced.

Seeding rates used is determined by feed requirement.

Higher rates have proven in trials to deliver higher levels of feed early.

Seeding strategic fodder crops for grazing at a set time has been largely ignored to date in the lower south east.

There are many options available in this scenario and all are very effective when the right one is chosen, and a program put in place.

These include:

* High rate 120–200 kg cereal (Cape Barley or Wintaroo oats) seeded dry to graze early.

* Hybrid Brassica / cereal mixes for early high-quality grazing.

* High bulk crops established and “pushed” agronomically through early winter to give high yield single grazing in mid to late winter.

* Specific high yield forage crop blends, to be cut in spring for high quality silage for next autumn feed gap.

The key to success here is to know the feed gap or role that the option is to fill and then come in and discuss this with us.

There are more and more options available to producers now than before.

We can assist with selecting the right one for the role you have and the conditions under which it is expected to perform.