Table of Contents

1. Overview

  • "Fodder" refers to food given to animals rather than that which they forage for themselves. This includes hay, straw, silage, compressed and pelleted feeds, oils and mixed rations, grains and legumes. “Forage” traditionally meant plant material eaten by grazing livestock - pasture, crop residue, immature cereal crops – but is used more loosely these days to include what was previously indicated by “fodder”.
  • Crop residues are an important source of winter forage.
  • In the drier central and western areas of the country, farmers commonly have small areas of drought tolerant fodder crops to provide a fodder reserve for droughts.
  • The establishment and management of cultivated pastures is a highly specialised industry. Choice of species or cultivar, preparing the correct seedbed, the time to sow, seeding depth and density as well as fertilisation, are examples of aspects that should be taken into consideration. Grasses are often mixed with other grass species or with legumes like lucerne.
  • Cultivated pastures (on dry land) can produce up to four times more than natural veld and play an important role in animal husbandry.

 

2. Local business environment

The Annual Report of the South African National Seed Organisation (SANSOR) includes a forage division chapter. This captures the developments and sales relevant to this sector. Find it at www.sansor.org.

The National Lucerne Trust (NLT) developed a grading system for lucerne hay which makes the trading of hay much more effective between sellers and buyers. Lucerne hay can be traded through the website www.lusern.org by registered members.

Sericea Lespedeza, commonly known as “poor man’s Lucerne” [or "smart man's lucerne" (Bath) and "prosperity lucerne"(Fair)], is a summer-growing legume that can effectively replace Eragrostis curvula.

Like eragrostis, sericea grows well on old low-fertile and humus-depleted lands. But sericea outperforms eragrostis on shallow soils. Abandoned lands that couldn’t produce satisfactory yields of eragrostis can now be converted into productive sericea pasture.

The reason is simple. Eragrostis needs nitrogen, and to fertilise a grass pasture on shallow soils is a poor investment that carries high risk – if it doesn’t rain, your nitrogen is wasted. Being a legume, sericea doesn’t require any nitrogen. It’s also highly drought-tolerant and will produce a good forage yield on relatively infertile soil with no fertiliser at all.

Source: “Why it’s time to change to sericea”, an article by the late John Fair in Farmer’s Weekly. Find it at www.farmersweekly.co.za. Also find details on the Infopak on Sericea Lespedeza under the websites & publications heading. 

 

3. For the newcomer

When it comes to choosing the best forage crop to plant, it is important to consider the following factors:

  • Is the forage crop suited to the soil and climatic conditions?
  • What sort of animal production will the forage crop be used for? For example, will it be used for milk production, fattening of weaners or the maintenance of dry cows, and so on?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of a particular forage crop, and how do these characteristics fit in with current stock farming practices?
  • How versatile is a forage crop and can it be used for more than one purpose?
  • Ensure that sufficient forage is planted to supply the required stock needs. It is preferable to work on a conservative forage yield and to make provision for a surplus.
  • Where intensive forage crops are planted under irrigation, be sure to plant crops which provide good yields and have a high feed value. Irrigation is expensive and one must look at obtaining optimal forage yields and optimal usage.
  • Before establishment, ensure that you know the fertilizer requirements for forage crops, the correct application times and how to correct any soil nutrient deficiencies.
  • Where possible plant more than one forage crop, especially perennial grasses, in order to spread risk and to create a better fodder flow programme. Well-matched grass or legume mixtures can play an important role in this regard.
  • Plant forage crops to complement sources of natural grazing and field crop remains and to gain the best advantage from all these sources of animal feed.
  • Use of intensive pastures, particularly those under irrigation, can result in internal parasite and fungal disease problems in stock. An effective dosing programme should be followed and, in the case of sheep and dairy cows, preventative measures must be taken for foot rot.
Source: Forage Crop Production Guide by Pannar Seed (Pty) Ltd. This highly useful document can be found on www.pannar.com or at http://www.flipbookcafe.com/books/pannarseed/forage-crops-eng/  
Find the grower notes on lucerne at www.lusern.org, website of the National Lucerne Trust (NLT). The NLT writes: “For emerging farmers, it is relatively easy to enter the lucerne industry and produce their own fodder as well as create a positive cash flow by producing seed and hay. By ensuring that only the best quality lucerne seed and hay is being produced, the industry will be more sufficient and profitable, also for the emerging farmer.”

Find grower notes, videos and other information on Tree Lucerne at www.biotechtreelucerne.com.