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Plant a planned mix of winter grazing crops and win

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It is always an advantage when a farmer can irrigate his grazing crops. On the one hand it ensures the best growth and production, and on the other hand ensures that herds will perform better.

To be successful livestock farmers have a choice when it comes to grazing for their animals. They can either graze their animals on the natural available veld on the farm, or they can proactively cultivate artificial reserve pastures (foggage).

The availability of such additional fodder, especially during the winter months, will give a herd a tremendous advantage and the correct combination of grasses and legumes can raise the carrying capacity of a farm considerably.

However, initially good pasture management is the key to success. Specific guidelines should be followed to ensure a difference between valuable and insipid grazing. Several factors play an important role in the successful cultivation of such fodder – which crops and when to plant them; the type and amount of fertiliser to apply, and the availability of water all play a major role in the decision making of a farmer regarding his pastures.

It is preferable that these crops should be under irrigation. However, this does not mean that additional fodder cannot be planted on dryland with the advances made in developing drought resistant cultivars for modern times.

In the southern hemisphere winter is already a fact. For the biggest part of South Africa it is the dry season when the veld withers and over-grazing can easily become a detrimental practice. Water shortage is the biggest bugbear of a cattle farmer, but there is still opportunity to plant additional winter grazing.

The crops mentioned below can be planted from February to July to support your herd through the winter. The first three crops should preferably be planted under irrigation.

Tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea)

Tall fescue is highly adaptable in various climatic regions. It is an easy grower in heavier soils and on vleiey lands. It is recommended to sow this grass at a density of between 25 and 30 kg/ha when planting in rows.

Rough cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata)

Rough cocksfoot is very nutritious grass with a high degree of tastiness. It is also hardy with good drought resistance and should preferably be sown (20 to 25 kg/ha) or planted in rows at 15 to 20 kg/ha.

It is often recommended that a combination of crops be planted for artificial grazing. Thus the farmer will ensure that his forage will be hardy, nutritious, palatable and appetising because the crop mixture supplement each other. As a combination it will ensure a winning recipe for over-wintering.

White clover (Trifolium repens) and Red clover (Trifolium pratense)

The two types of clover are normally planted together. White clover is a slower grower but is a perennial. Both clovers are normally also combined with any of the other grasses mentioned above to increase the nutritional value of the grazing.

In many instances farmers depend on rain only to water the lands. Some farmers believe that they cannot afford the high cost of an irrigation system, or their circumstances are such that they cannot implement it. However, there is still hope for these farmers. There are specific grass species that can be planted on dryland.

Dryland grazing should be planted earlier to enable it to utilise the advantage of late rain showers. These fodder crops are normally established between February and April to allow ample time for the plants to attain maturity before allowing animals to graze on them.

Barley (Avena sativa)

Barley provides good nutritional value and is also a form of roughage that promotes healthy cattle rumens. It is also very hardy against drought and frost. Barley should be sown at 50 to 70 kg/ha or planted at 40 to 50 kg/ha. The crop has an additional advantage of a high potential when harvested as grain.

Fescue is an excellent choice for winter grazing. It is nutritious, tasty and can stand cold weather. It is also very adaptable to various soil and climatic conditions (Photo sourced from: https://alchetron.com/).

Korog (Tritico secale)

Korog can withstand cold conditions with frost and needs very little water. It is also a fast and easy grower and has a high yield potential. It is often sown successfully in conjunction with barley. The recommended seeding rate is 60 to 80 kg/ha or a planting density of 35 to 45 kg/ha.

Rye (Secale sereale)

Rye is best utilised when planted together with korog and barley. It has a high nutritional value but is not as tasty as the other winter fodder types. Between 40 and 50 kg/ha can be sown on lands, or it can be planted in rows at a rate of 30 to 50 kg/ha. Rye withstands cold well and frost does not kill it.

Although these crops can increase the carrying capacity of the grazing, care should be taken to avoid over-grazing. The golden rule is to keep in mind that a bovine eats between 2,5% and 3,5% of its own mass in dry material per day which makes it possible to calculate what demands will be made on the pasturage and then plant accordingly.

The best advice is to consult pasturage experts. Most seed companies will be able to assist with advising the correct quantity and combinations of pasture crops that will provide in the needs of the farmer. It is important to keep to the existing carrying capacity of the farm, the number of animals that will graze, and also keep the availability of water in mind when a farmer plans his forage requirements.

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