Prom­ise in na­tive flora bloom­ing

Countryman - - LIVESTOCK -

On a 1600ha farm north of Pin­gelly, na­tive shrubs share the lime­light with crops of canola, bar­ley, oats and lupins, and 3000 or so Meri­nos.

Ridge­field by name, but Fu­ture Farm 2050 by na­ture, the Univer­sity of WA’s dry­land farm­ing test case has been help­ing re­searchers re­assess the value of Aus­tralian na­tive flora in mixed-pas­ture graz­ing sys­tems.

So far, the re­sults have been en­cour­ag­ing, ac­cord­ing to Fu­ture Farm 2050 project leader Graeme Martin.

“This is a real revo­lu­tion in the think­ing of how we man­age an­i­mals in our en­vi­ron­ment,” he said.

“A lot of th­ese shrubs help to re­duce meth­ane emis­sions, they are peren­ni­als, so pro­vide green feed in au­tumn, and they are drought-re­sis­tant, which is no sur­prise, be­cause they evolved in this land­scape.

“They also have good biomass, some are self-med­i­cat­ing — they help to pre­vent worms, and we know we have a de­vel­op­ing prob­lem with worms be­ing re­sis­tant to drenches — and they pro­vide shel­ter dur­ing lamb­ing.”

Pro­fes­sor Martin said by plac­ing twin-bear­ing ewes within a pad­dock con­tain­ing na­tive shrubs, the farm had been able to sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce neona­tal mor­tal­ity.

“Ev­ery in­di­ca­tion thus far is that we can re­duce twin-lamb mor­tal­ity to 5 per cent by lamb­ing in the shrubs,” he said.

The re­search, part of a col­lab­o­ra­tive project more than 10 years in the mak­ing, with trial sites across south­ern Aus­tralia, has prompted its back­ers to re­fer to na­tive shrubs as su­per­feed for live­stock.

On Ridge­field, Pro­fes­sor Martin said Ere­mophila glabra, or the tar bush, was the “su­per­star”, pre­ferred by the farm’s flock for its palata­bil­ity to sheep and its re­silience.

It was one of 12 shrubs iden­ti­fied by Philip Ver­coe, from UWA’s In­sti­tute of Agri­cul­ture and School of Agri­cul­ture and En­vi­ron­ment, and his col­leagues as part of the project, En­rich.

Pro­fes­sor Ver­coe said the re­search had in­di­cated im­prove­ments to both pro­duc­tiv­ity and nat­u­ral re­source man­age­ment, with good weight gains ex­pe­ri­enced within the test flock.

He said graz­ing on th­ese shrubs could re­duce meth­ane emis­sions in­ten­sity by about 25 per cent in au­tumn. “This is ex­cit­ing be­cause it is ev­i­dence that shrubs can help achieve in­creases in weight gain and im­prove prof­itabil­ity as well as re­duce the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of live­stock in­dus­tries — an im­por­tant find­ing as we move to­wards mak­ing the red meat in­dus­try car­bon neu­tral by 2030,” he said.

Pic­ture: Ann Rawl­ings

UWA Fu­ture Farm 2050 project leader Graeme Martin next to a tar bush, which has been found to have good graz­ing tol­er­ance.

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