Barossa pasture trial finds way to fill feed gaps

Barossa farming group builds resilience to climate variability

Sheep National

The Barossa Improved Grazing Group has found some annual and perennial pasture options to maximise pasture production in a variable climate.


MAXIMISING pasture production can be a challenge for livestock producers with short growing seasons and sporadic summer rainfall becoming more frequent in many areas.

But a three-year Meat & Livestock Australia-funded producer demonstration site project run by the Barossa Improved Grazing Group has given some annual and perennial pasture options to fill feed gaps.

BIGG technical facilitator Georgie Keynes says even with two of the past three years being below average rainfall, there have been some promising results.

Several mixes have extended the number of grazing days by as much as a fortnight and produced extra tonnes of dry matter.

Ms Keynes says the PDS has given producers a much greater awareness of the new pasture varieties available and how they perform in the local area.

It has also reinforced the need for planning to identify seasonal feed gaps and how to fill them.

“To be more resilient we need to make sure we have the right pastures in the right place to fit not only our livestock system but also maximise the number of grazing days we can achieve across the property,” she said.

“The best results have come from having pastures with early, mid and late season varieties making the most of any early rain which may fall or in a better season having more grazing days at the end.”

Three major sites were established at Koonunga, Eden Valley and Keyneton in 2016 as part of the PDS, each assessing a range of pasture cultivars.

Fifteen minor sites then followed in 2017 and 2018 with BIGG working one-on-one with producers’ individual paddocks.

The project received strong support from Pasture Genetics, Heritage Seeds, Farmer Johns and Coopers of Mount Pleasant Farm Supplies.

Among the successes, according to Ms Keynes, was the use of early forage varieties, such a Moby barley, to fill a winter feed gap.

In 2016, Matt Neldner, Marananga, was able to graze 250 ewes with lambs on a 4.7 hectare paddock for 14 days in July.

The ewes and lambs utilised 2300 kilograms of dry matter/ha and lambs maintained their growth rates averaging 350 gram daily weight gain.

“We had a late break in June but he had feed up and going in June, July and August so he was able to grow out his lambs and have them ready for sale in September when few others could,” Ms Keynes said.

In late September, Mr Neldner cut 6.75t/ha of hay which could help to maintain 250 dry ewes for about three months.

Ebenezer boer goat producers Tracy and Owen Bonython also had success in a very dry year in 2018, establishing a lucerne-dominant pasture on 250mm of growing season rainfall.

The 2.8ha paddock was sown in May with GTL60 lucerne with Australis phalaris, Convoy cocksfoot, Valley diploid ryegrass and Balance chicory at 25kg/ha.

In October a temporary electric fence was used to split the paddock in half with one half grazed by 75 weaner goats for 22 days utilising 2400kg DM/ha.  

The other half was cut for hay, providing six round bales fed out during summer.

Mrs Bonython says pasture productivity is key to their business, striving for three kiddings in two years.

Two-and-a-half years ago the Bonythons launched their Bon Chevon brand and now run 100 breeding does, supplying chevon to restaurants in the Barossa and Adelaide.

The young goats are turned off at 18 kilograms carcaseweight to 25kgcwt at about six to eight months of age.

“We have been kidding three times a year in April, August and December so we are trying to build a better grazing system to feed our animals as best we can,” she said. 

“Goats can do well on low quality feed but they need something to eat especially in summer, which is where we hope the lucerne will perform.”

She says being part of the BIGG project has been a great learning experience and highlighted the palatability of different cultivars to their goats, especially chicory.

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