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Critical phase ahead for Walpeup fodder trial

Local farmers will get an insight into the suitability of native shrubs as a fodder source when a field trial at Walpeup is grazed for the first time next month.

Critical phase ahead for Walpeup fodder trial

Measuring the plant species at the Walpeup site.

The field trial is part of the nation-wide Enrich project and was established in July 2008 to explore the use of perennial shrubs as alternative feed sources for profitable and sustainable grazing systems in low to medium rainfall areas.

A total of 16 different species were planted at the Walpeup site, which is located at the Walpeup Research Station. Species planed include Emu Bush and Bladder Saltbush.  The site wasn’t grazed last year to allow the plants to develop, but researchers are preparing to add stock in April this year, with the results of the grazing expected to deliver some important information on how palatable these shrubs are to sheep.

“This field trial will give farmers in the dryland areas of our region some meaningful data on how suitable particular native species are as forage sources in a grazing enterprise,” said Joan Burns, who is the chair of the organisation that has facilitated the project, the Mallee Catchment Management Authority (CMA).

The field trial has been supported through funding from the Australian Government’s Caring for our Country. The research component of the project is being undertaken by the Department of Primary Industries (Future Farming Systems Research Division) and is a joint initiative of the CRC for Future Farm Industries and Meat and Livestock Australia.

Ms Burns said the introduction of stock to the field trial site is a critical phase of the project.
“Measurements of shrub survival and growth will continue when the sheep are brought into the trial site, which will be when some of the most meaningful data to come from this project will be gathered,” she said.

“The sheep’s grazing preferences for different species will also be assessed, which is an important consideration because this helps to tell us about nutritional and extra-nutritional effects of plants that can’t be easily measured in a laboratory.”

Assessments will also be carried out to measure the plants conventional forage quality, growth and survival rates in order to provide farmers with more conclusive information on what shrubs are suitable and viable as an alternative feed source in the Victorian Mallee.

Further detail on the project and on the data collected to date is available from the Mallee CMA website at  Outcomes from the grazing phase are expected to be released in July, 2010.

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