Herb based systems - Choice chicory & Tonic plantain

Kate Bryne, AusWest Seeds, Central & South West NSW

Grazing herbs are unique species of pasture which offer many benefits for grazing systems. Chicory and plantain’s stand out features include their high feed quality and low risk of animal health issues such as bloat in cattle and red gut in sheep. These can be a risk when grazing lush legume-based pastures containing lucerne, medic (Medicago spp.) or clover (Trifolium spp.). Herbs have a well-balanced protein to energy ratio and low levels of fibre, which improves digestibility compared to other fodder options. Forage herbs also have a fast rumen degradation time in comparison to other feed types, enabling animals to eat more during the day. Benefits from the increased feed quality and increased intake include rapid lamb liveweight gain and increased milk production in ewes and cattle.

Thirty kilometres west of Forbes, NSW, Dustin Kemp, manages a farm where Choice chicory and Tonic plantain have been successfully used as part of the farming system. The farm has an average annual rainfall of 500mm which is supplemented with flood irrigation. Herbs have been incorporated into the system to provide high quality feed for lambs and to help fill the green feed gap throughout the year.

In 2017, a straight stand of Tonic plantain was sown on flood irrigation. This paddock has been an important part of the operation, particularly for finishing lambs. The fast degradation rate of Tonic plantain provides a strong advantage as the time it takes for plantain (or chicory) to be digested through the animal is much faster than other forages. Due to Tonic’s quick degradation rate, large amounts of forage can be consumed by the lambs each day. This allows more nutrients to be sourced from their diet, resulting in higher live weight gains each day.

“Lambs yield better off Tonic than straight lucerne and I have been able to send a lot of lambs over the hooks off this paddock” says Dustin.

Tonic plantain | AusWest & Stephen Pasture Seeds
Figure 1: Tonic plantain in May 2018. Ready to be grazed again
While the straight stand of Tonic has been invaluable to the system, Dustin also uses herbs in his pasture mixes. By including chicory and plantain, Dustin has been able to increase the quality of the overall pasture sward and allow green feed to be on offer for his lambs throughout the whole year. One mix which has helped fill the feed gap includes Tonic plantain, Flecha Mediterranean tall fescue, Icon lucerne and a mixture of annual clovers. “I have green feed all year round, the plantain and lucerne in the summer and the Flecha and clovers in the winter. I always have somewhere to finish lambs and I don’t need to go buy grain.”
Mixed herb pasture | AusWest & Stephen Pasture Seeds
Figure 2: Lambs grazing the mixed pasture in November 2018.
Dustin also uses Choice chicory in his operation to provide quality feed on his dryland paddocks. In 2017 a mix of Uplands cocksfoot, Icon lucerne and Choice chicory was sown. Despite it being a tough year for pasture establishment, the chicory plants established well and have provided multiple grazing’s since. Chicory has a deep tap root which allows it to continue to grow in the warmer months when other pasture species have slowed. This is particularly useful in a lamb finishing system. “I am continually impressed with Choice chicory. It’s so tough. We have had two years of below average rainfall in central west NSW and there are paddocks of chicory still hanging on. While they haven’t had much of a chance to produce a lot of dry matter yet, these plants respond quickly after any rain events we have had, and it is always the first thing the stock eat.” Kate Byrne - AusWest Seeds

Plantain and chicory offer valuable feed for livestock. As demonstrated by Dustin, herbs can be utilised in finishing systems as both monocultures or included in pasture mixes. Herbs can also be mixed with brassicas to produce a shorter-term bulk high quality diet or blended with legumes to reduce the risk of animal health issues associated with high legume-based diets.
Choice chicory | AusWest & Stephen Pasture Seeds
Choice chicory responding to recent rain. Photo taken mid-April 2018, previous rainfall event was in January 2018.

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