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Forage crops can make or break a productive farming enterprise. Good pastures could either mean the difference between a profitable year for the farmer or one where the farmer will be forced to approach his bank manager once again to plead for mercy.
In South Africa natural grazing cannot always provide in the demands of commercial animal husbandry; consequently farmers often decide to invest in cultivated pastures. It will always be better farming practice to allow cattle or sheep to graze than having to feed them. As with most farming activities the planting of cultivated pastures forms the most important part of the process.
Before deciding on the pasture crop to be planted, the farmer has to ask him/herself some important questions.
1.Which type of pasture crop will grow best given the specific climate and soil conditions?
A farmer has many options, each with its specific pros and cons. Therefore the first thing to do is proper research before deciding on a specific pasture crop.
2.For which purpose will the artificial pasture be used, for example?
Rounding-off of animals for marketing or for milk production? The purpose of the cultivated grazing will certainly play a determining role in the final decision.
3.What are the advantages and disadvantages of the specific fodder crop?
Here the focus should be specifically on the sort of crop to be planted. Make an in-depth study and discuss it with other farmers who already have experience with a specific pasture crop. Many times one learns the necessary lessons from the mistakes of others – grab the opportunity and learn from the mistakes or success of your neighbours.
4.Can the pasture crop serve as all-rounder or only for a specific purpose?
The farmer must have clarity regarding the purpose of cultivating the pasture, as indicated in 3. Should the same pasture crop be applied for, inter alia, the maintenance of dry cows and the rounding-off of slaughter animals, it will be more profitable if the same pasture crop can serve for both.
5.How much grazing pasture will the herd/flock require?
To answer this, the carrying capacity of the pasture has to be considered and compared with the number of animals that will graze it. Where the pasture is grown under irrigation, the farmer can plan a grazing program where the animals are divided into grazing camps (paddocks). This will ensure that the animals get enough feed and the camps can be alternated to prevent over-grazing and stimulate timeous re-growth.
6.Will the fodder be irrigated or planted on dryland?
Each has its problems and advantages. Inset costs for dryland is lower but it has more risks. Irrigated pastures have to be utilised efficiently to justify the costs.
7.What are the fertilising requirements for this type of pasture?
This matter probably requires in-depth attention before anything else is considered. The soil has to be cultivated and correctly fertilised before the planting date. Preparing the seedbed is a determining factor in the success of this venture.
8.Can a combination of pasture crops be used to increase the nutritional value of the fodder?
Yes. This approach is especially popular with irrigation farmers who practice conservation tilling. Various crop combinations are often used for different seasons to provide grazing with the highest nutritional value.
9.How can inset costs be limited to increase profitability?
It is important to keep the overheads of any project in check as the aim of any farm is to coin money. However, it is imperative not to skimp on quality to save a few bob. At the end of the day good quality seed and fertiliser is a given for better profits.
10.How will the disease control program have to be coordinated with regard to the condition of the cultivated pastures?
Anyone who has walked through a wet lucerne land will know how pestering mosquitoes and horseflies can invade it as habitat. The same applies to other pests such as ticks and a variety others. Ensure that the animal health program can cope with the new challenges that may crop up in the wake of cultivated pastures.
As soon as answers to these questions have been obtained, a decision can be made on the type of cultivated crops. It is also imperative to have the soil fertility tested by taking a soil sample and having it analysed.
Traditionally the best time for planting fodder crops is January to February although different summer and winter programs may also be implemented. In this instance sound reasoning is necessary regarding the period to establish the crops for winter fodder. Seedbed preparation is vital as these plants have very fine seed making the planting process more exact than, for instance, planting big maize kernels. The seedbed has to be level and firm with a high enough moisture content. A fine-seed drill is compulsory to ensure eventual maximum germination and emergence.
Regarding fertilisation it is a good yardstick to keep in mind that one ton of hay takes up approximately 10 to 20 kg Nitrogen, 1,2 kg Phosphate and 12 kg Potassium from the soil; thus the farmer has to provide in this need in the fertilising process. A general rule is that pastures should not be grazed too soon after it has been established. Annuals should not be grazed before six weeks after planting, and perennials should be allowed to settle properly for the first eight weeks.
To combat weeds, it is advisable to first mow the weeds. Should it emerge again after the first mowing, spraying a selective weed killer can be considered. To establish new grazing fodder is an expensive process. However, it holds the potential to add tremendous value to farming when planned and managed correctly. To approach it haphazardly could, however, result in big losses. It is in your own interest to plan meticulously to get the best results from your cultivated pastures.
This article was based on information contained in the PANNAR Forage Crops Production Guide.
Contact PANNAR for further information by phoning 033-413-9500 or visit the website www.pannar.com.