Report Synopsis

Filling the Feed Gap. Designing a profitable forage-based beef cattle system

Stuart Tait

The extensive use of supplementary feed to fill the seasonal feed gap in pasture-based beef systems in Southern Australia is seen as a significant inhibitor to profitability, and cost-effective alternatives to manage and fill the seasonal feed gap are explored as part of this research.

A number of recommendations are made for farmers and others involved in the beef industry. Increased collection and analysis of practical on-farm data, flexible enterprise mixes, subdivision of grazing areas, a more intensive attitude towards pasture management in the same way grain crops are managed, and two examples of annual forage sequences are proposed. This report informs readers of several practical factors which combine to create a simple and profitable beef forage system designed for Southern Australia, based on examples seen around the world.

Dual purpose winter wheat is the recommended crop to recommence the crop cycle following a period of perennial pasture and is targeted at filling the feed gap during the winter months of June and July. Following dual-purpose wheat, a short-term annual or Italian ryegrass is a suitable crop to plant, which will provide large volumes of high-quality for age from August through until early December.

Pending the results of further on-farm trial work, cocksfoot is seen to be the most suitable perennial grass species for summer production and may be used alongside chicory to deliver reliable, low risk summer grazing. Lucerne is also recommended to be included in the system, until sainfoin seed becomes commercially available in Australia. It is suggested to cut the first growth of lucerne in spring as chopped silage into a cost-effective self-feeding silage pit for use during the autumn. This option helps to capitalise on the strong production of lucerne in spring, whilst avoiding a high bloat-risk period, and coincides with a period when large volumes of forage are available on short term ryegrass paddocks which can carry large numbers of stock.

Through autumn, it is recommended that stockpiled phalaris pasture is utilised to feed non-lactating pregnant animals, whilst an opportunity exists to utilise a self-feeding silage pit (lucerne silage) to feed young stock.

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