We were delighted to see our Lucerne varieties featured in NZ Farm Life and Country Wide this year. We were especially delighted to see that Luisetti Seeds Agronomist Andrew Johnson has increased the productivity of one North Canterbury farm significantly through his recommendations – the farm reported their lambs had gained near double the weight on Luisetti forage crops, compared to those on grass.
“Charger chicory has an metabolizable energy (ME) equal to Lucerne, is highly digestible, and has a long tap root which can access soil moisture at depth and draw trace elements such as copper from within the soil profile and makes them available to livestock,” Andrew says. “Chicory is not affected by any insect pests such as aphids and diamond-backed moth and there are no animal health issues associated with it. It’s pretty much bullet-proof.”
Along with these features, Charger chicory’s condensed tannins help to control internal parasites, bringing significant animal health benefits. Simon Lee, Farm Manager for Mendip Hills Station reports both increased weaning weights and percentage of lambs finished at weaning, and reduced animal health treatments in stock grazing the crop.
Hubs of Charger chicory and clover, and of Venus Lucerne have also allowed them to free up areas for other stock classes and to grow their ewe lambs to mating weights. Lambs fed on Charger chicory may gain almost twice as much in weight per day compared to those grazed on grass.
“They just stack the weight on and they are growing at 280-300 grams/day easily, compared to the lambs on grass which are gaining 170-190g/day [at similar stocking rate]. I’m pretty sold on it, it’s not a big cost and we can target-feed young animals on it,” said Simon in Country Wide.
The team also had finishing steers on Charger chicory with no bloat issues. Because of its palatability, stock graze chicory very evenly and there are no deadmatter or quality issues, which means there is no need to break-feed it. Charger chicory grows rapidly from October to April, and is tolerant of varying soil conditions. Mendip Hills Station were able to get the first grazing off the block in January with six subsequent grazing through autumn by lambs and cattle, despite hot and dry weather after sowing. You can graze it earlier than traditional summer crops such as rape, and Charger chicory will last longer into autumn.
Simon told Country Wide that Mendip comfortably budget on growing eight tonnes dry matter (DM)/ha/ year from their hill country chicory crops, and they can expect to get at least two years out of their chicory stands. After that they’ll stitch in either cocksfoot or a short-term ryegrass to extend the life of the pasture to between five and 10 years, depending on the rotation. Similar results have been reported for other North Canterbury farms planting Venus Lucerne – John Fitzgerald of Ferniehurst reports that his Venus Lucerne pastures have produced 700kg liveweight of lamb per hectare through weaning. This is a significant jump on his grass-fed lambs, at just 160kg liveweight lamb per hectare at similar stocking rate.
While expensive to establish, Venus Lucerne has earned its keep several times over both in lamb weight and recovery after drought. The Venus Lucerne stands recovered faster than the grass pastures, as the crop is semi-Winter active, grows well in dry land conditions and has very good aphid resistance. Venus Lucerne in particular is densely branched with low spreading crowns, which are 25% larger than most semi-dormant varieties. Because of these features, it is estimated that well managed Lucerne pasture can increase returns by $144/hectare for a North Canterbury sheep farm.