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Arrowleaf clover improves lamb growth rates in late spring and early summer compared with subterranean clover pastures in south-west Victoria

Thompson, A.N., Kennedy, A.J., Holmes, J. and Kearney, G. (2010) Arrowleaf clover improves lamb growth rates in late spring and early summer compared with subterranean clover pastures in south-west Victoria. Animal Production Science, 50 (8). pp. 807-816.

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The profitable production of lamb from pasture-based systems is dependent on high levels of pasture production being efficiently utilised by sheep of superior genetic merit. Pastures that can extend the pasture-growing season and provide high quality feed in late spring and summer have the potential to increase production efficiency and the proportion of lambs that meet market specifications. In this paper we tested the hypothesis that arrowleaf clover (cv. Arrotas), a cultivar selected for late maturity, would supply feed of higher nutritive value than conventional annual legumes and perennial ryegrass mixtures during December and January and this would improve lamb growth rates over this period. Two experiments were conducted to compare the nutritive value of pasture and growth rates of lambs grazing arrowleaf clover, subterranean clover (cv. Leura) or subterranean clover/perennial ryegrass mixtures at different stocking rates during late spring and early summer in south-west Victoria. In the second experiment an arrowleaf clover/perennial ryegrass treatment was also included. Lambs were removed from the plots when they could no longer maintain liveweight.

Arrowleaf clover extended the growing season by 4–6 weeks and provided feed of significantly higher digestibility than subterranean clover during December and January. The digestibility of arrowleaf and perennial ryegrass was comparable, but arrowleaf had significantly higher crude protein content during this period. Lambs grazing arrowleaf clover at stocking rates up to 24 lambs/ha grew at or above 100 g/day until the end of January, whereas lambs grazing subterranean clover and perennial ryegrass mixed pastures could not maintain weight by mid-to-late December in both years and were removed from the pastures. At the highest stocking rates total lamb production from arrowleaf clover monoculture pastures in late spring and early summer was ~400 kg liveweight/ha, and was more than double that achieved from the subterranean clover and perennial ryegrass/subterranean clover mixed pastures. The perennial ryegrass/arrowleaf clover mixed pastures in the second experiment produced a similar quantity of lamb per hectare as the arrowleaf clover monoculture pastures at the same stocking rate.

In this paper we demonstrated that late-maturing arrowleaf clover can be a profitable, special purpose lamb-finishing pasture. Arrowleaf clover was most suited to more elevated parts of the landscape where estimated carrying capacity was 20 to 40% greater than that from lower lying parts of the landscape that were more subject to water logging and weed infestation. The risks of including arrowleaf clover pastures into the farming system could be reduced by direct drilling arrowleaf clover, which has relatively poor winter production, into existing perennial ryegrass pastures.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing
Copyright: © CSIRO 2010
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