Pasture and Fertiliser
THE sheep herds of Australia are being asked to cast their vote, by teeth, to let researchers know just what type of lucerne crop is their favourite.
Agriculture Victoria is currently evaluating 47 different lucerne cultivars for ‘grazing preference’ as determined by sheep.
Senior research scientist and project leader, Meredith Mitchell, said the tests were about evaluating all current available commercial lucerne cultivars, as well as prerelease material from seed companies and some material from China.
“These experiments will help identify traits, for producers to potentially take advantage of,” Dr Mitchell said.
“Lucerne is a highly diverse species with large variation in traits and restrictions, such as seasonal growth variations, growth patterns, and tolerance to stresses such as grazing, heat and drought.”
The experiment is being conducted in small plot experiments at Agriculture Victoria’s Rutherglen and Hamilton sites.
The locations represent contrasting grazing districts in Victoria and the experiment sites were sown in spring 2015.
“The varieties in this experiment represent the full range of winter dormancy ratings available in Australia,” Dr Mitchell said.
“Also included are several grazing-tolerant varieties, two that have a rhizomatous habit, which means the plant will grow runners across the soil surface, plus several with a degree of waterlogging tolerance.
“This project will explore the large diversity of traits within the lucerne species which, once identified, could provide the opportunity to exploit them.”
Dr Mitchell said observations are being recorded at six week intervals.
Grazing preference is being assessed using sheep in each plot area.
Sheep are on the plots for 27 hours, and the plots are rated on how much plant is eaten at 3, 6, 24 and 27 hour intervals.
“We are trying to correlate grazing preference with plant form ( upright verses prostrate), pasture height, forage quality and leaf to stem ratio.
“We will be repeating this grazing preference experiment at both sites during winter,” Dr Mitchell said.
A field day, “How we can manage lucerne better”, will be held early this month looking at tactical grazing management of lucerne to maximise productivity along with preliminary analysis of the animal grazing preference experiment.
CHOICE: New research by Agriculture Victoria is looking at which lucerne crops sheep like best.