Need more sheep feed?
If feed is becoming a bit tight a tactic that can be used is the strategic use of nitrogen (N).
Nitrogen can reduce the need for handfeeding by rapidly increasing the amount of green feed. Handfeeding is costly and time consuming so the aim is to feed as many of your livestock as possible from pasture. Applying nitrogen to pastures also provides critical feed for pregnant and lactating animals, while allowing deferral of grazing on other parts of the farm.
N applied to grass dominant pastures will give you the best results. Pastures will respond where soil nitrogen is low and there are no other constraints to pasture growth, such as waterlogging or other nutrient deficiencies like phosphorus, potassium or sulfur.
It is essential when applying nitrogen to pastures that the additional growth is utilised.
Research has shown that an extra 15-20kg/ha DM/ha can be produced over the winter for every kg N/ha applied. On current nitrogen prices, this means that an extra tonne of feed can be produced for only $62 to $82/t. The greater the nitrogen response - the cheaper the feed.
Strategy for growing more grass
1. Identify your grassy paddocks. Look for at least 50% grass in the composition, and consider only treating grassy areas rather than whole paddocks if composition is variable.
2. Apply either 80-100kg/ha Urea or 80-100 litres /ha Flexi-N just prior to rain if possible. Rates below this recommended amount often are not sufficient to optimise the nitrogen response, and you are advised to do less area at a higher rate to maximise your return.
3. Defer grazing for at least 10-15 days if possible, this allows pasture to respond and reduces any possibility of nitrogen toxicity (a greater risk where capeweed is abundant).
4. Utilising this extra feed means you need to increase stocking rates on these paddocks. In Wagin , Flexi-N was banded at varying rates on a pasture that was re-seeded with Ryegrass, Sub Clover and Oats (5th May 2020). Quadrant Cuts were taken on the 24th June and 17th of July. 21kg N/ha (50L Flexi-N) only grew an additional 200kg of DM but where we increased rates to 42kg N/ha (100L Flexi-N) we grew an additional 1t of DM costing just $56/ha.
Feed quality was assessed from the cuts and scenarios for potential profits from the increase in pasture growth were generated.