In the Eastern Wheatbelt, livestock production accounts for a significant portion of income within the typical farming business. The recent run of dry years has depleted the pasture seedbank resulting in pastures that consist mostly of volunteer weeds such as cape weed and radish. The soils of the district are highly acidic, further reducing the number of pasture species options suited to the low rainfall environment. The cost and time frame for improving soils through liming is high so landowners are understandably keen to explore options for acid and drought tolerant pastures as an effective way to provide pasture feed for livestock.
With support from the National Landcare Program, Wheatbelt NRM are currently running on farm trials in partnership with members of the Far Eastern Agricultural Region (FEAR) group to test potential pasture crops suited to the regional conditions.
One such trial has occurred on Clint Della Bosca’s property in Moorine Rock. Clint hoped that the vetch would provide them with another break-crop option that could also provide grazing in his mixed farming system. Morava Vetch is an annual forage Legume, it fixes nitrogen and is extremely palatable at all growth stages. It has very high feed values for animals as green plants, as dry matter as well as grain.
Morava Vetch was sown at the Della Bosca’s property on 26th April 2017 at 25kg/ha into non favourable conditions that was followed by a dry June/July. As a consequence of the dry germination, establishment has been variable. This, in combination with the wide row spacing, has produced a range of plant densities and heights across the paddock. On this basis, the total available feed on offer (FOO) ranges between 500 and 1000kg/ha across the whole paddock. This assessment takes into account the bare inter-row and areas that had marginal establishment, as well as where the growth has been good. However when looking at predictions of animal production, sheep graze plants, not the bare inter-row. Most of the better plants when cut and weighed would be the equivalent of a 2000-2500kg/ha FOO, which would offer a grazing 50kg sheep approximately 16MJ per day. A dry sheep requires 8MJ per day, so this would result in significant growth or increases in condition score in the grazing animals. Using these calculations crossbred lambs would increase weight by approximately 300g per head per day, merino lambs would increase by 200g per head per day and merino ewes would gain an approximate 0.5 condition score per month.
With the growing season being extremely poor this year (the lowest on record) the trials were not expected to do well, however the recent inspection has delivered a surprising, and very welcome, result. The full assessment and case study is yet to be completed however the preliminary results are very positive. The Della Bosca’s are very excited about the future of using vetch in the eastern Wheatbelt as a low cost and beneficial feed option for livestock in the region.