A flatter pattern of forage production and improved management of key insect and weed pests are two of the benefits arising from chicory pastures for one Fleurieu Peninsula dairy farm.
Rod, Jean and Stephanie Walker have been growing dryland chicory on their Mount Jagged dairy farm since 2012 and have been willing to share their insights about integrating chicory into their dryland pasture system.
Mr Walker began by growing chicory on paddocks where African black beetle had been destroying the existing ryegrass pastures. The chicory proved resistant to the beetles and has persisted better than he originally expected. However, it has impressed Mr Walker in even more ways.
"Certainly its biggest benefit in our operation has been to significantly extend the pattern of forage growth," Mr Walker said.
"Our dryland grass-based pastures usually grow between May and November, but the chicory extended green feed supply through December and again in early-mid autumn."
Mr Walker said he found chicory was less winter-active than ryegrass but was more drought tolerant and summer active. His chicory stands grew about 30 kilograms dry matter per hectare per day for much of summer and has allowed them to allocate 4kg DM/cow/day of green chicory during the summer.
The chicory stopped growing for only a six-week period in each summer, when it seemed to have exhausted all moisture in the soil profile. "Nevertheless, the chicory pastures are our first paddocks to start growing each autumn and the last to stop growing each year," he said.
Mr Walker said his cows seemed to take a couple of days to adjust to grazing chicory and he reckons sufficient chicory should be planted so cows can be offered chicory for at least 14 consecutive days in each rotation to make its inclusion worthwhile.
Conversely, he also cautioned against planting too much chicory on the milking area.
"Our cows only ever get access to chicory for 12 hours each day, to limit the proportion of chicory in the cows' diet and avoid milk tainting problems," he said.
"Chicory is also less palatable to cows than ryegrass during the cold winter months so excessive plantings could compromise winter grazing and milk production."
As a consequence of these issues, Mr Walker said 25 to 30 per cent was the ideal proportion of milker paddocks to plant to chicory on his farm.
Three or four of his worst degraded pasture paddocks are sprayed out and resown to chicory each August, and he intends to return the same number of his oldest, thinning chicory stands back to ryegrass pastures each autumn.
However, Mr Walker has learnt not to bother spring sowing chicory in areas adjacent to dams or creeks, because wild ducks will quickly migrate into these areas and love to continually nip off any new chicory growth.
Neither does Mr Walker bother planting chicory in paddocks badly infested with thistles or capeweed, because it is difficult to selectively control these daisy-type weeds in chicory pasture.
Chicory helps control barley grass Chicory is a deep tap-rooted perennial grazing herb, providing benefits in extra out-of-season forage growth and improved persistence on lighter soils where black beetle had previously been a problem.
Interestingly, chicory has helped achieve a marked reduction in barley grass problems on the Walkers' farm.Mr Walker sprays out his four worst barley grass-infested paddocks for spring sowing to chicory each spring, and this controls barley grass really well. He will also use selective herbicides as necessary to control remnant barley grass in established chicory stands.
By the time older chicory paddocks are returned to ryegrass, those paddocks are near-free of barley grass.
Barley grass management is further complemented by the Walkers having a feedpad system in their dairy operation, which eliminates the need for feeding out any weed-infested hay onto pasture paddocks.
Seemingly the Walkers have developed a system whereby multiple parts of their farm system work together to reduce barley grass problems.
This is a good example of an IPM (integrated pest management) approach to tackle this frustrating grass weed. D
This article has been developed as part of the DairySA Hills & Fleurieu Forage Network project, funded by Dairy Australia. Contact email firstname.lastname@example.org or DairySA forage project officer Greg Mitchell, phone 0417 814 037.
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