Watershed Landcare Inc.

Quantifying the benefits of multi-species pasture crops on animal performance and soil health

Through the Landcare Excellence in Sustainable Farming Grants, Watershed Landcare have been working in collaboration with farmer, Colin Seis, to establish a grazing demonstration site to gather empirical evidence to compare animal performance and environmental benefits on a multispecies pasture crop and barley crop.

Growing evidence from the USA and Australia has shown that multispecies crops and pasture diversity increase soil carbon, nutrient cycling, and improve soil biology and farm ecosystems. However, data in the grazing context is limited and this project will build on this understanding. This is particularly relevant in our region as fodder crops are often utilised to supplement pasture during the winter feed gap.

The project was funded through the Meat & Lifestock Australia (MLA) Landcare Excellence in Sustainable Farming Grants, a partnership of Landcare Australia and MLA as part of their community focused Australian Good Meat initiative.

The demonstration site was set up at ‘Winona’, located 20 km north of Gulgong, NSW. ‘Winona’ consists of 840 ha which runs 4000 merino sheep for wool, merino lamb, and mutton production. The property’s pasture is restored native grassland consisting of 50 native grassland species.

The trial site was split into 2 sections, ~10 ha each, to compare animal performance and soil health indicators on single species and multi-species pasture crops.

The single species plot was plated with barley and the multi-species plot planted with a mix of barley, field pea, faba bean, Winfred forage brassica, tillage radish and turnip. Both plots were grazed heavily and treated with a knock down herbicide prior to zero till cropping into dormant native grassland in early March.

Two mobs of lambs were put onto the trial plots in early May. Initial individual weights were recorded and monitored throughout the trial.

Soil chemistry (including trace elements), pasture species composition, crop biomass and soil structure indicators were also monitored throughout the trial. The data collected will be used to compare lamb weigh gains and environmental benefits on a multispecies pasture crop and single species (barley) crop.

Data and results from the first year of the trial are currently being collated and will be presented at an on-farm field day later in the year.

The grazing trial will be extended for 5 years to provide a sufficient time frame to show meaningful trends in changes in soil carbon and nutrient cycling.