Forage crops pave way for success
After successful results last season, forage barley and oat crops are set to become an integral part and a key to unlocking greater sheep numbers and production for the Mills family of Eneabba.
David Mills, who owns the Eneabba farm store and helps his son, Sam, with their farm, said he was excited by what they had seen with forage crops, especially in the season just gone.
“We reckon we can increase sheep numbers by at least another 20 per cent, without a lot of changes, aside from growing more forage crops,” Mr Mills said.
The family crops about 600 hectares, and while the area sown to crops is not expected to increase markedly, there will be a move to sowing more Dictator 2 barley and Mammoth oats.
“The late break in 2017 was the real eye-opener. A shortage of feed, rapidly cooling conditions and the prospect of a short growing season really put pressure on. Dictator 2 barley really came of age for us,” Mr Mills said.
“We’d been playing around with it for a few years. The late break meant it came up much later than normal. Some wasn’t sown until the first week of July.
“By the end of July, we’d already had sheep feeding off it. That’s the brilliant thing about the Dictator 2, it’s just up and out of the ground so quickly. It was stocked 24 days after sowing at the rate of 10 ewes and lambs per hectare.”
Mr Mills said the early grazing quality of Dictator 2 was “fantastic” and it could “take the grazing”.
“As an example, we put about 1400 sheep in a small three-hectare holding paddock. After a couple of days, they’d grazed the barley right down. The stock was taken off and four days later green shoots appeared. It bounced right back,” he said.
“The advantage for us with Dictator 2 is that we get two good grazings during the season and then have a number of options in the spring. It can be grazed off, cut for hay or let go to seed and harvested.
“Off one 43-hectare paddock that was a second-year hay crop, which is not recommended, we cut 340 six-foot bales, or about 160 tonnes (3.9 t/ha).
“That paddock had two early grazings and was sown late. It was a phenomenal result. It makes beautiful hay and being an awnless barley variety is a distinct advantage.”
Mr Mills said he also saw potential in the other forage cereal variety, Mammoth oats, which he believed could extend the greed feed window by about three weeks.
He said their livestock program was to mate 3500 ewes each year in what was essentially a three-way split — between a third superfine Merinos, Dohne rams put over reject superfine ewes and Poll Dorset rams put over their ewe progeny.
Their sheep numbers vary, but average around 6500.
Eneabba farmer Sam Mills in one of his family’s Dictator 2 barley paddocks in 2017. This forage crop, sown at 55kg/ha in July, still produced well despite the late break. The Mills family believe Dictator 2 barley delivers great grazing value, the options of hay or grain, and it looks set to increase their livestock production.