Plantain trial at Whangara produces excellent results

8 December 2012

The hill country trial pasture results have exceeded his expectations to date, and the ewe hogget results speak for themselves, said AgResearch senior scientist Tom Fraser. The Lincoln-based pasture expert, who was the keynote speaker at the Field Day at Whangara Farms on Wednesday, said the hill country trial was aimed at achieving higher quality pastures for weaned lambs in the December-March period.

“We know that the pasture quality completely goes with the existing vegetation over the summer and early autumn. “We want to introduce plants that improve the forage to produce improved lamb growth rates.”  The trial was started back in autumn and lambs are going on to the trial blocks in the next week. “The pasture they will be going on to looks really, really good, and is up to, if not better than my expectations.

“You have got to remember we are working here in a fairly harsh environment.” The spraying, the helicopter, seed and so on cost $450 a hectare.  “To get a return based on a kilogram live weight of lamb at say $2, you have got to get an extra 250 kilos of live weight a hectare to make it pay,” he said. It looks as if the control paddock nearby on existing grasses will stock at 25 lambs a hectare, Mr Fraser said. “The trial paddocks look like stocking at between 45 and 50 a hectare, and I expect those lambs will grow at least 50 percent faster on the plantain-clover-chicory legume pasture.”

He would expect to see four very good years out of the pasture mixture, then a couple of good years, after that it may fade away as the population of the introduced plant species drops. “It may be you have to start again every six years, but it looks like we will get our money back in the first year, so after that it is all profit.  “So why would you not do it again in six years time?”

The plantain trial with ewe hoggets at Whangara is producing excellent results.  Mr Fraser said it is also only in the first year and the costs of introducing the feed variety on the easier country at Rototahi were higher, because of the direct-drilling involved.

“But the return is already greater than the cost just through this first lactation, just through an increased number of stock.”

About 20 ewe hoggets a hectare on the plantain-clover pasture, compared to 10 to 12 on the existing pasture.  Weaning results will be out next week, but Mr Fraser said at docking the grass-fed lambs averaged 15 kilograms, the plantain-clover fed 18kg. The grass-fed ewe hoggets had recovered to 53kg, the alternative pasture animals to 55.7kg on average.

“If you multiply the stocking rate up by the increased growth rate of the lambs then we have almost doubled the return in the first lactation period.”  He said the results are obvious to see.  “The ewe hoggets and their lambs on the plantain-clover mix have a ‘bloom’ about them, even the colour is slightly creamier.”

He said the trial work being done is extremely important for hill country farming in this region.  “While it was a good turnout for the field day, I would have liked to have seen more farmers there.  “When I travel around the country farmers often say it is all very well to do the research at Lincoln or Massey. But what is it like on my patch? — they ask.  “Well, we are in your patch and I hope more farmers will take advantage of the follow up field days planned next year.”