The need for more even pasture supply and improved persistence has led one Fleurieu, South Australia, dairy family to trial and achieve early successes with new soft-leaved tall fescues and plantain pastures.
The Connor family runs dairy farms at Nangkita and Mount Jagged and they are focusing on higher productivity from perennial pastures to reduce their costs of milk production.
Jake Connor said many of their ryegrass pastures had thinned out due to black beetle damage, and irrigated ryegrass did not grow well for them during hot summer months.
“We decided to plant a couple of the newer softer-leaved tall fescue varieties in several of our irrigation paddocks,” Jake said.
“Hummer and a new unnamed tall fescue both established very slowly from last autumn’s sowings, but have progressively become stronger over the first twelve months.”
The new fescue pastures grew 50 to 60 kilograms dry matter (DM) per hectare per day over the hot summer months, when the ryegrass pastures were lucky to grow at half that rate.
At the same time, Jake has been impressed with the palatability of the new pastures for his herd.
“We have seen white clover growing well with the fescue and our cows have willingly grazed these pastures down really well,” he said.
Jake realises that the pastures are still relatively young, but has been satisfied so far and looks forward to keeping interested farmers updated on these new fescue varieties.
The Connors have also been keen to try alternative forages on their dryland paddocks and sowed plantain, a tap-rooted perennial forage, in two of their Nangkita paddocks last autumn.
With its tap-rooted growth habit, Jake thought plantain should be more resistant to black beetle attack and hopefully more drought tolerant and persistent through dry summers. He had also heard how plantain is highly regarded for strong winter growth in New Zealand and Europe.
“It’s early days, but so far we can report plantain established well from autumn sowing and has been very readily grazed off by our cows,” Jake said.
It grew well through winter and provided up to seven tonnes dry matter per hectare in the first year.
“Our new perennial pasture sowings are usually quite slow in the first year, so we are excited about such good early growth from the plantain. We’re really keen to see how well it does in year two,” he said.