There is more and more interest in how planting multi-species forages as an alternative to single species forages impacts animal performance, soil health and long-term profitability. During our research in this area, we came across this interesting farm trial carried out by Watershed Landcare Incorporated which shows some significant results in terms of weight gains, plant biomass and soil carbon levels. 

There is quite a lot of detail in the full article which is available through the link further down, but I have summarised the main points below. We would also love to hear about any experiences our farmers might have had introducing multispecies forages into their own systems.

Multispecies Forage Crops for Lamb Production, Soil Carbon Sequestration and Offsetting Livestock Emissions – Watershed Landcare Incorporated

Background:

In collaboration with farmer Colin Seis, Watershed Landcare established a grazing trial to demonstrate and research the benefits of multi-species forage crop for increased animal performance and soil health. Treatment and control paddocks were used to fatten and finish merino lambs in May-July with weight gains and pasture biomass periodically monitored over the course of the trial. Changes in soil carbon, structure, chemistry and grassland species also monitored pre-sowing and post-grazing. 

Location:

‘Winona’ 20km north of Gulgon NSW

Treatments:

  1. 6ha multi-species forage (Barley, Field Pea, Faba Bean, Winfred Forage Brassica, Tillage Radish and Turnip at 55kg/ha total)
  2. 6ha single species (Barley at 50kg/ha)

Site Preparation:

Both areas were grazed heavily and sprayed out with Basta prior to planting in March 2020. Both sites were also fertilised with an N-P-S fertiliser at 50kg/ha.  

Seed and Fertiliser Costs:

  • Barley ($140/ha)
  • Multi-species ($183/ha) 

Summary of Findings for Multispecies Forage:

  • Increased livestock performance 
  • Improved general animal health in the third weighing (qualitative assessment)
  • Increased farm profitability and sustainability
  • Long term benefits for soil nutrient cycling, biology and pasture productivity
  • Provides additional fodder during the winter feed gap which allows for better maintenance of pasture rest times, preventing overgrazing, improving future growth rates and spring recovery, reducing bare ground and weed invasion
  • Increased total carbon over an 8 month period compared to a small decline in total carbon over 8 months in barley treatment

Full Article for More Information:

https://watershedlandcare.com.au/projects/multispecies-forage-crops-for-lamb-production-soil-carbon-sequestration-and-offsetting-livestock-emissions/


Figure 1: Mean weights of lamb mobs grazing multi-species and barley trial plots. Note: The actual weights are not necessarily important here given the different ages and sexes, but the trend of weight gain is important. Compare the trend of the Barley – Total with the Multispecies – Total.

Figure 2: Average daily weight increase of lambs grazing multispecies and barley trial plots. Note: The second and third weighings showed a significant difference in average daily weight gains between the Barley – Total and the Multispecies – Total trial areas.

Figure 3: Daily weight gain of spring and autumn lambs grazing multi-species and barley.

Table 1: Mean ± Standard Deviation (N = 6) of multispecies and barley crop biomass from grazing trial and control plots.



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