10 April 1998

Lucerne in swards lifts up protein

LUCERNE varieties which are tolerant of grazing are being used by US milk and beef producers to cut production costs.

According to lucerne enthusiast Warren Thompson, speaking at the Pennsylvania grazing and forage conference, lucerne increases the quality of grazing pasture. Milk yields have increased,, beef animals achieve higher growth rates and suckler fertility has been improved.

"Lucerne is drought-tolerant and has a high lifetime yield compared with other legumes. Risks of bloat are also lower for lucerne than for white clover," he added. But it is best to graze mixed swards, keep dry hay available, and allow stock to adjust to the crop gradually.

Many US producers who graze stock use mixed forage swards to increase protein intakes. The lucerne may be drilled alone and grass overdrilled a year or two later or drilled at the same time. But the lucerne variety used must be tolerant of grazing.

"Take the crop as hay or silage first when plants will not be strong enough to graze with cattle." He then advises rotational grazing, which can begin 20-25 days after hay harvest, depending on growth. Each grazing block should last less than four days and then allow 28-35 days for recovery.

Producers can expect to graze a spring sown crop once or twice in its first season. But avoid grazing too hard, which will damage the basal stems or crowns of plants .

reducing productivity.

It is important that stock are removed five weeks before the winter freeze to allow the plants to build a reserve.

Mixed forage grazing swards that include lucerne increase annual protein intakes, says Warren Thompson.