In our climate, the cold temperatures experienced over the winter months are the principal factor affecting pasture growth and can result in a winter feed gap. What if you could supplement livestock nutrition by providing additional fodder while improving soil structure and nutrient cycling and build soil carbon at the same time?
In collaboration with farmer, Colin Seis, Watershed Landcare have launched a project to demonstrate and research the benefits of multispecies forage crops for increased animal performance and soil health. As part of their community focused Australian Good Meat initiative, Meat & Lifestock Australia (MLA) in partnership with Landcare Australia have funded the trial site through the MLA Landcare Excellence in Sustainable Farming Grants.
The project will build on growing evidence from the USA and Australia which has shown that multispecies crops and pasture diversity will increase soil carbon, nutrient cycling, and improve soil biology and farm ecosystems.
The project will be carried out at ‘Winona’, 20 km north of Gulgong NSW. ‘Winona’ consists of 840 ha of restored native pasture which runs 4000 merino sheep for wool, merino lamb, and mutton production.
The project will zero till a multispecies mix forage crop into a dormant native grassland. A mix of up to 10 species in a multispecies crop with its diverse mix of plant roots and flowering plants aims to build soil carbon and biology which cycles nutrients. An adjacent area (paddock division) will be sown to a single species fodder crop as a comparison. The project and control paddocks will be used to fatten and finish merino lambs, with weight increases in the sheep periodically monitored over the course of the trial. Changes in soil carbon, soil structure and chemistry and grassland species will be monitored pre-sowing and post-grazing.
Multispecies pasture cropping has multiple benefits for livestock producers. It provides a viable farm adaptation to reduced and changing rainfall events; by sowing an opportunity crop to provide high quality livestock feed while reducing financial risk.
Besides increasing livestock performance, and so farm profitability and sustainability, multispecies pasture crops have long-term benefits for soil nutrient cycling, biology, pasture productivity and increase soil carbon sequestration which can offset livestock emissions.
Additionally, pasture management over the entire property can be improved during the winter feed gap. By establishing a multi-species autumn crop and providing additional fodder through winter, pasture rest times can be maintained and overgrazing prevented on adjacent paddocks; improving future growth rates of pastures, reducing bare ground, and reducing weed invasion whilst maintaining stock health.
The project will gather data of lamb performance (weight gain), crop biomass, pasture species composition, and soil chemistry and structure, providing objective data evidence of this practice.
The trial will continue until 2024 by sowing a diverse multi-species forage crop on the same area and monitoring the changes in soil carbon and nutrient cycling over a longer time frame.