Knight Italian ryegrass performs despite tough season in NSW

With 60 per cent of the total dry matter (DM) intake for his cows coming from pasture, quality feed is essential on ‘Bangalara Dairies’, just south of Coffs Harbour in NSW.

The property has been run by the Bakes for four generations, who first farmed the block 110 years ago. The operation, now managed by Jason Bake, along with his wife Michele and three daughters; Hannah, Danica and Jorjah, consists of 420 Jersey and cross-bred cows.

With pastures driving cow nutrition, and therefore milk production, Jason believes it’s important to have varieties that are doing the job.

Jason Bake Knight Italian ryegrass
Jason Bake with his daughter Hannah in a Knight Italian ryegrass pasture

“Ryegrass needs to have a good dry matter yield and be backed up by comparative local trial data, so you can compare real data with what you’re actually doing on the farm,” Jason explains.

“Any ryegrass variety we grow also has to be able to deal with wet autumns and persist into late spring, allowing it to provide good quality forage before the kikuyu starts to come in.”

2018 will be the Bakes fourth season growing Knight Italian ryegrass from AusWest Seeds, originally growing it on the recommendation of their agronomist. The variety has been such a success that in 2018 it will take up around 85 per cent of the total ryegrass planting on ‘Bangalara Dairies’.

“We selected Knight as the local trial data showed the variety was doing very well, and a few local farmers reported that it grew a bit longer in the season, filling a bit more of the feed gap right at the very end of spring,” Jason says.

The Bakes start planting ryegrass in March at 25kg/ha, once night-time temperatures start dropping below 16 degrees Celsius, with the sowing program taking around eight weeks.

“The start is very critical for us, we’ve got to get the Knight Italian ryegrass in and established as early as possible,” Jason says.

“However, it’s the bulk of feed it produces through winter and into spring that’s the main attraction of the variety, because our cows peak in production towards the end of June, and at that point in time we’ve generally got a fair bit of grass there ready for them.

“As spring comes in, you can cut back your reliance on any other silage or forage and instead graze more ryegrass.”

That performance was especially important in 2017, when Jason says they had the toughest winter in decades.

“In September there was next to no pasture available for cows to graze – perhaps 0.5kg DM/cow/day - it seemed the ryegrass had died,” he says.

“In early October we received 200mm of rain, and after four weeks the cows were grazing Knight at 12kg DM/cow/day, which tells the story.”

While the extra length of production at the end of spring is one measure of the success of Knight, Jason says its productivity has also been shown in dry matter yields using a plate meter.

“We know we’re developing denser swards, and Knight Italian ryegrass in particular has the ability to produce a prolific amount of tillers, as opposed to some of the other varieties we’ve got,” he explains.

“Knight also doesn’t elongate as early as other varieties do in spring, so it doesn’t go reproductive, it stays vegetative for an extra four or five weeks, which is good.

“When compared with some of the other varieties we’ve had in the past, Knight Italian ryegrass is producing up to 15 per cent more dry matter over the same growth period during winter and spring.

“That’s a fair amount of extra grass, especially when you aim to graze everything off, and you can save on soybean silage and build a feed wedge for when seasonal conditions deteriorate.”

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