Why this amazing plant is great for livestock AND the planet
NEW RESEARCH shows a diet that includes plantain means cows don’t produce as much harmful nitrogen in their urine, and still make good weight gains.
Research by livestock production scientists from the Faculty of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Lincoln University looked at whether incorporating deep-rooted forage herbs such as plantain or chicory into a pasture mix would help animal production and sustainability on farms Their work has shown a mix of plantain and chicory is great for the environment, but plantain in particular is a win-win for dairy farmers.
“We were delighted to find that the herbage mixtures reduced urinary nitrogen extraction compared with the traditional pasture,” says principal investigator Dr Paul Cheng. “This showed the potential for such herbs to mitigate the environmental impact of livestock farming.
“However, while plantain mixtures supported similar liveweight gains of the heifers compared with traditional pasture, chicory-fed heifers had limited liveweight gains.”
This trial at Lincoln University’s Ashley Dene Pastoral Systems Research Farm in Canterbury involved short-term autumn and spring trials using 56 Friesian x Jersey heifers in 2014. The heifers were divided into five dietary treatment groups grazing individual swards: 100% chicory; 100% plantain; conventional perennial ryegrasswhite clover pasture; 50:50 pasture: chicory; and 50:50 pasture plantain.
Comprehensive measurements were taken of both the forage and animals before and after grazing to record the responses to each of the diets.
A second trial, in 2015, using the same herbs showed that using chicory and plantain in a mixture with perennial ryegrass-white clover at proportions of 25% and 50% in the diet had the potential for use as a mitigation tool to reduce the environmental impact from dairy heiferrearing systems in autumn and spring. Similar to the 2014 trial, liveweight gains of the heifers grazing chicory mixtures were low relative to the other groups.
However, scientists still don’t know what the mechanisms are that determine the lower urinary nitrogen concentration and nitrogen excretion and say further studies are needed.
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