Evaluating the benefits of mixed plantain/chicory/clover pastures in a Hawke’s Bay sheep breeding and finishing farm
Farming in the inland Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand with traditional pasture is limited by pasture quality in summer and early autumn. Low lamb growth rates in spring/summer pushes lamb finishing into the late summer and early autumn when feed demand competes with sheep mating and compromises pasture cover entering winter. We discuss our process for investigating and adopting high legume herb-based pastures that thrive within the constraints of our soils. This process involved learning from other farms and trials, small-scale on-farm trials and farm-system modelling. We gain considerable confidence from observing plantain, chicory and clover pastures within a learning group run by Massey University. Our on-farm trial measured by On-Farm Research showed favourable forage production (+20% greater than ryegrass-clover pastures for spring, autumn and winter) and longevity (4–6 grazing seasons). From this we modelled our farm using Farmax software. Farmax calculated an historically poor performance in February, March and April from ewes (-65, -45, -15 g/day respectively) and lambs (55, 0, 35 g/day respectively). Based on six key assumptions, we have calculated the profitability of herb-based pastures. These are compared with the performance we are currently achieving on herb-based pastures. For each value we are achieving better than assumed, i.e. ewe weaning weight 64.0 versus 62 kg, lamb weaning weight 33.0 versus 31.3 kg, ewe lamb growth rate 132 versus 100 g/day, male lamb growth rate 253 versus 235 grams/day and ewe hogget scanning percentage 144 versus 130.
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