Growing profit from the ground up

Plantain pasture gives lambing a boost

Farmer’s name: Craig Grant

Location: Raglan, western Victoria

Property size: 1000ha

Enterprises: Mixed farming operation — winter cropping, wool and prime lamb production

By providing an abundance of high-quality feed from autumn to spring, plantain has quickly become one of the most valuable feed sources on the Grant family’s farm.

By providing an abundance of high-quality feed from autumn to spring, plantain has quickly become one of the most valuable feed sources on the Grant family’s farm.

 

Craig Grant, Raglan, western Victoria has discovered the key to better stock health and productivity at lambing time, by switching to a highly-productive, mineral-rich grazing herb — plantain.

Plantain is a perennial, broad-leaved grazing plant, which grows best during the cooler months of the year. By providing an abundance of high-quality feed from autumn to spring, plantain has quickly become one of the most valuable feed sources on the Grant family’s farm.

Craig farms with his brother, Jason and their parents, Lynne and Steve. He is also helped by his wife, Kerry and their two boys, Ben (7) and Thomas (5).

The Grant family already has 80 hectares of Tonic plantain growing and plan to sow a further 60ha this spring.

Paddock preparation

“We use a cropping phase to renovate our pasture base, which helps make sure the paddocks are weed-free before we sow,” Craig said. “Bent grass can be a particular problem in our area.”

Craig believes Tonic plantain would work well for many lamb and wool producers, but cautions them to tackle weeds first.

“It is much more economical to make sure the paddock is weed-free before sowing the Tonic plantain, than to try to take them out later when the pasture is already established,” he said.

The Grants crop up to 300ha of canola, oats and triticale each year on the 1000ha mixed farm, selling their grain to local grain receival sites. The rest of the property is grazed by 1500 to 2000 Merino ewes, which lamb during spring, and up to 500 ewes joined to Dorset rams for prime lamb production, which lamb during late autumn to winter. The family generally sells their lambs over the hooks, rather than in the saleyards, as they tend to weigh heavier and yield better than they look, according to Craig.

According to Craig Tonic plantain has been especially valuable during lambing for their younger ewes.

“Last year, the maiden ewes on the plantain lambed at 100%, and the lambs were heavier at weaning than those on traditional perennial pastures,” he said. “On the sub-clover and ryegrass pastures, the lambs were smaller and we were feeding out a lot more pellets.”

“In general, we find that the stock on plantain stay healthier, with strong growth rates, wool production and less scouring.”

“When our spring lambing Merinos finished on the plantain paddock and we moved them into the summer crop, a lush green brassica, there were no issues with scouring from the change of diet.”

High-quality feed

As a high-quality grazing herb, plantain offers sheep a fresh, mineral-rich feed source, containing calcium, sodium, copper and selenium.

“We can stock the Tonic plantain paddocks at higher rates than the perennial pastures,” Craig said. “It’s not only that, but it also persists just as well, if not better, than our other pastures and we are getting better growth from our lambs.”

“The only thing we need to do now is to grow more Tonic plantain and utilise it better.”

Cool-season growth

According to Craig, their Tonic plantain responded rapidly to the autumn break and produced well throughout winter and spring.

“It slows down during summer, but we are now trying over-sowing an older Tonic plantain paddock with a summer-active lucerne to get better year-round production,” he said. “Tonic plantain is well suited to our soil type and climate and it’s well worth the investment.”

“We have acid soils here, but we lime to bring the soils back up towards pH 5.5 and it grows really well here.”

Tonic plaintain is recommended for a wide range of soil types and climatic conditions, including less-fertile soils and dryland situations with at least 450mm annual average rainfall. It also offers some drought tolerance due to its deep, coarse root system.

According to Michael Grant, Stephen Pasture Seeds’ Western District Area Manager, Tonic plantain’s strengths lie in its excellent cool-season growth and high-quality feed.

“It is ideal as a grazing paddock during lambing to increase lamb and ewe weights at weaning,” he said. “In studies comparing Tonic plantain with perennial ryegrass in New Zealand, it provided between 10% and 34% higher weaning weights for the lambs, with the lactating ewes also gaining weight.

“Tonic plantain is a productive, persistent feed that helps stock through their most critical feed period with better health and better growth rates for earlier weaning.”

Tonic plantain can be sown during spring as a straight pasture, or drilled into existing pastures or lucerne.

For more information on plantain download the Tonic plantain factsheet from Stephen Pasture Seeds

Contributor: Michael Grant, Western Districts Victoria, Stephen Pasture Seeds