Context: The use of dual-purpose crops (for grazing and grain) has increased in the high-rainfall zone in southern Australia.
Aim: A systems experiment examined the impact on livestock production and supplementary feeding when dual-purpose crops were incorporated into a production system based on Merino ewes producing yearling lambs for sale.
Methods: The experimental site near Canberra, ACT, was subdivided into nine experimental units (‘farmlets’) with three replicate farmlets for each of three production-system treatments. Each farmlet was managed as a self-contained unit with six Merino ewes and their progeny during 2013–16 (4 years). Ewes were joined in February, lambed in July and shorn in spring; the original cohort of ewes (born 2009) was replaced by a new cohort (born 2012) at the midpoint of the experiment. Six weaners were retained after weaning in each farmlet and sold as yearlings. Control farmlets were sown to pasture based on phalaris (Phalaris aquatica L.) and subterranean clover (Trifolium subterraneum L.) and comprised sub-paddocks to allow rotational grazing. Farmlets in treatments that included dual-purpose crops comprised six sub-paddocks (0.231 ha), with two sown to permanent pasture, and four supporting a rotation of pasture–pasture–dual-purpose canola (Brassica napus L.)–dual-purpose wheat (Triticum aestivum L.). In one of the crop–pasture production system treatments, crop-grazing was prioritised for ewes (ECG treatment); in the other, crop-grazing was prioritised for their progeny weaners (WCG treatment).
Key results: Greasy fleece weight from ECG (5.3 kg) and WCG (5.1 kg) ewes was higher (P < 0.001) than from control ewes (4.7 kg) averaged over the 4 years. The final sale weight of yearling weaners from the WCG system (44.3 kg) was higher (P < 0.001) than from the control (39.2 kg) or ECG (39.1 kg) systems when averaged over the 4 years. The benefit was predominantly due to greater weight gain during the period when weaners grazed the crop during late autumn and winter. Sale weight of lamb per hectare was higher (P = 0.003) in the WCG treatment (216 kg) compared with the ECG treatment (186 kg) when averaged over the 4 years of the experiment but did not differ (P > 0.05) to the control (201 kg). Meat production over the 4 years was higher (P < 0.001) in the WCG system (226 kg/ha) than other treatments when weight gain from wethers in 2014 was included. The impact of including dual-purpose crops on supplementary feeding was variable and depended on seasonal conditions.
Conclusions: Incorporation of dual-purpose crops into the high-rainfall production system can increase meat and wool production, with the highest meat production being obtained when crop grazing was prioritised for young carry-over livestock.
Implications: Prioritising dual-purpose crops for young growing livestock can increase meat production from the system while allowing other livestock classes (wethers or ewes) to graze the crops in better seasons when there was excess forage that would otherwise have been under-utilised.