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
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.
‘Winona’ 20km north of Gulgon NSW
- 6ha multi-species forage (Barley, Field Pea, Faba Bean, Winfred Forage Brassica, Tillage Radish and Turnip at 55kg/ha total)
- 6ha single species (Barley at 50kg/ha)
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