SHEEP producers in New South Wales should plan now to keep their flocks free of grass seed contamination, according to the NSW Department of Primary Industries
The department is reminding producers that winter is the time to plan strategies to keep flocks free of grass seed contamination and help optimise performance and returns.
NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) sheep development officer, Geoff Casburn, said producers can avoid or mitigate problems with grass seeds by thinking ahead.
“Seed contamination risks the loss of high value markets and with contamination costing up to $1.50 per kilogram of carcase weight, meat processors are sending clear messages that contamination will reduce returns to producers,” Mr Casburn said.
“Right now producers are focussed on getting the best out of grazing crops and short, slow growing pastures and it pays to act now to reduce the risk of seed contamination on animal welfare, lamb growth rates and wool, skin and carcase values.”
“Planning practical solutions to keep lambs and sale sheep free of seed and breeders as free from seed as possible, starts with identifying the problem plant species, when they set seed and how they can be managed.”
Mr Casburn said Meat & Livestock Australia has done the leg work with its Winning against seeds manual, http://www.mla.com.au/Research-and-development/Grazing-pasture-management/Weed-control/Seed-contamination-of-carcases.
“Using this information, producers can identify suitable weaning paddocks and start a management program to ensure paddocks remain free of problem seeds, free of worms and contain a good quantity of high quality pasture.”
Lucerne paddocks can be winter-cleaned of problem grasses
Mr Casburn said lucerne paddocks are ideal for providing quality feed late in the season when grasses are maturing. They can also be effectively winter-cleaned to remove problem grass species.
“However, careful paddock selection is required as winter cleaning reduces biomass production, potentially leaving a feed deficit if too many paddocks are treated at once.
“Spray-topping barley grass and silver grass later in the season is an option which allows pasture growth during winter, however it is a long-term strategy aimed at reducing, not eradicating, problem plants in the following years.”
Mr Casburn advised producers to be aware of issues with Erodium, Chilean needle grass, wire grass and spear grass, which produce particularly nasty seeds.
“Save the clean paddocks for when they are needed and graze potentially seedy paddocks before they become a problem – as the season progresses graze westerly aspects first as these plants undergo moisture stress and set seed early.
“Shearing before seeds reach maturity significantly reduces seed contamination and may be an option when lambs need to graze paddocks with small amounts of seed. This strategy needs careful thought when considering premature shearing of adults.”
Source: NSW DPI.