A solution to feed challenges at lambing

Lambing can bring with it some significant feed challenges, particularly for highly productive twin and triplet bearing ewes, because grasses can’t meet their high energy demands in late pregnancy.

Even with unlimited access to feed, twin and triplet bearing ewes can’t process grass quickly enough to fulfil their late pregnancy energy requirements.

Ecotain® is the next generation plantain that can help support high animal energy requirements when you need it according to Hamish Best, national product development manager with AusWest Seeds and Stephen Pasture Seeds.


“What these ewes need is a feed source that allows them to physically eat a lot more, like plantain,” he said.


“It’s a high ME feed, it’s high in calcium, and importantly, it has half the rumen degradation time of ryegrass so the ewes can physically eat more, and that makes all the difference.”


Hamish believes there are a lot of farmers who could benefit from growing a pure plantain sward for times of key feed demand like lambing.


“Switching to a winter-active plantain sward for lambing time makes a lot of sense, especially where there are high percentages of twin and triplet bearing ewes,” he said.


“Put it this way, those who have tried it aren’t switching back to grass based pastures!”

Young Lambs on plantain field
Ewe and lambs on plantain

Plantain is a broad-leaved perennial pasture herb which offers excellent nutrition for stock and similar growth rates to ryegrass.


It grows best with an annual average rainfall of 700 mm or higher. Plantain provides an earlier spring flush than perennial ryegrass and it also responds well to autumn rain.


“Take care to choose a winter-active plantain like Ecotain® environmental plantain, for good growth rates at lambing time,” Hamish said. “Not all plantain varieties are winter-active.”


A spring planting is ideal for winter-active plantain varieties.


“By establishing the crop in spring, farmers can make use of the high-quality feed for finishing lambs over summer, as well as having the crop established for lambing the following winter,” he said.


Alternatively, plantain can be sown on the autumn break, depending on how late the break arrives and the expected time of lambing. Plantain should not be grazed before seven true leaves.


When being used for lambing ewes, Hamish suggested approximately one hectare to carry 9-10 twin bearing ewes, so Ecotain® systems should be targeted for specific classes of stock.


Farmers can expect the crop to persist for two to five years. While the herb is known as an excellent forager for nutrients, it requires fertilisers for ongoing production and persistence, particularly phosphorus, sulphur, potassium and nitrogen.

Hamish suggested farmers develop a feed budget before allowing grazing at lambing time.


“Ideally, the plantain paddock should be locked up for a month before grazing so it has 10-12 cm of leaf available when the ewes are stocked,” Hamish said.


“Start grazing the plantain as close to lambing time as possible, around three to four weeks out, and don’t pull them until after lambing. Milk fever can be an issue if they are moved back to ryegrass before lambing due to the reduced calcium in their diet.”


As well as an excellent feed for lambing, plantain can also be valuable for finishing lambs or flushing ewes to achieve a higher percentage of twins and triplets. It can also give excellent weight gain results in cattle.


For more information on growing winter-active plantain on your farm, contact your local AusWest Seeds or Stephen Pasture Seeds sales representative today.

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