Fast establishing autumn forages

Hamish Best, AusWest & Stephen Pasture Seeds

Pastures across the country have recently been hit by long hot dry spells. Now is the time to make decisions about whether to grow feed for the winter or buy it in. These decisions will not only affect the autumn and winter at hand, the seed you plant this autumn will also affect the quality and amount of feed grown in the spring. There are many options to consider including forage oats, annual ryegrass, Italian ryegrass and forage rape and this article aims to help guide you into the right forage for your farming system.
Austin Oats | AusWest & Stephen Pasture Seeds
Austin oats, Deepwater QLD
Mainstar forage rape | AusWest & Stephen Pasture Seeds
Regrowth of Mainstar forage rape, Cobden VIC

Forage rape can be planted the earliest, particularly with irrigation. It is more heat tolerant compared to the autumn forage species and can be planted from February through to April, however the earlier it is sown the more yield you will carry into the winter. Autumn sown rape yields can range from 3-6tDM/ha, depending on the season. Most farms get a single grazing, however if mixed with a plantain, such as Tonic, the paddock can carry on through the following spring and into summer, providing high quality forage during this time. Plant Mainstar forage rape to provide mid to late winter bulk feed.

Forage oats provide rapid autumn bulk, they are a large seed and can be sown deeper than others, meaning they are less likely to strike in a false autumn break. They are also very fast to establish and can be sown from February to June. Forage oats can provide large amounts of bulk feed and can be mixed with annual and Italian ryegrasses to provide grazing longevity into the spring. Plant Austin or Bond oats for fast early winter feed. If you want the paddock to continue to grow, mix with an annual ryegrass like Mach 1.

Annual and Italian ryegrass won’t carry as much bulk into winter as oats and brassica, however these ryegrasses provide high-quality short-term feed. If paddocks are being pulled out for cropping purposes before September than an annual will suffice. If high quality growth is required through the latter part of spring, an Italian variety, such as Knight, should be sown. Figure 1 below shows the quality differences and regrowth potential between annuals and Italians.
Annual grass trial | AusWest & Stephen Pasture Seeds
Showing the late season quality difference between annuals. From left: Double crop annual ryegrass, Atom Prairie grass, Asset Italian ryegrass, Thumpa Italian ryegrass, Mach 1 annual ryegrass, Knight Italian ryegrass. Manildra NSW

The fit of each of the autumn sown forages and what they can provide you in terms of quality, longevity, bulk feed potential and speed to first grazing is summarised in the table below. It’s worth noting, that bulk feed relates to the amount of feed that can stand in the paddock, for example forage rape/brassica and oats are able to grow 5-8tDM/ha whereas Italians and Tonic are only able to grow 3.5-4tDM/ha. The regrowth potential relates to the ease of management required to get successful regrowth, with Italians and Tonic plantain regrowth is vigorous, whereas with oats or forage rape/brassica care is needed not to overgraze below the growing point in order to get successful regrowth.

Table 1: Comparison of various autumn sown winter forage options. Scale 1-5 star ratings.

Species Cultivar Sowing rate
Speed to first graze Regrowth potential/longevity Bulk feed potential Quality
 Forage rape Mainstar 3-4 ** ** ***** ****
Forage rape & plantain Mainstar & Tonic 2 & 4 (respectively) ** ***** **** *****
Oats Austin (or Bond) 75-120 ***** ** ***** ***
Annual ryegrass & oats Mach 1 & Bond 20 & 60 (respectively) ***** *** **** ****
Annual ryegrass Mach 1 25-35 **** *** *** *****
Italian ryegrass Knight 20-25 **** **** *** *****

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