Once considered a weed, field trials reveal plantain is a high-protein alternative to pasture ideal for finishing lambs.
The herb delivered solid results in a field trial conducted by Massey University, nearly doubling live weight gain in some cases compared to pasture alone.
Ballance Agri-Nutrients Technical Extension Officer Murray Lane said a plantain crop provides high dry matter yields, with high levels of protein and energy.
“Also of benefit is the lack of any growth-limiting endophyte toxins found in older ryegrass pastures and the fact that with plantain facial eczema is less of a risk, as less plant residue is left after grazing”
Ballance is one of the participants in a Beef and Lamb project near Te Kuiti to evaluate the use of plantain in lamb fattening programmes on hill country.
“Our role in this trial is to evaluate fertiliser strategies, in order to deliver the best economic production from the plantain crop,” Mr Lane said.
Professor Peter Kemp, from Massey University, is investigating grazing strategies using plantain, to see how much weight gain can reasonably be expected in lambs, and how that compares to gains made on other feeds, such a ryegrass pasture and a chicory mix. At a recent field-day Professor Kemp presented the results of a 12-month trial that ran from June 2011 to May 2012. (see Table 1).The results revealed that a plantain mix with red and white clover produced more than 700kg lamb carcase weight over the 12-month trial, 179% of that achieved by using pasture alone.
The plantain species used in this work was Tonic – a sophisticated, upright, well-bred version of the ‘roadside weed’ that many farmers will be familiar with. In winter, Tonic grows as much dry matter (DM) as ryegrass does, but it also grows extremely well over the summer months.
Professor Kemp’s data showed that in this trial, production from the plantain mix peaked at an average of 70 kg DM/ha/day – during December.
Mr Lane said that establishing plantain was relatively easy, but better results were achieved by following a systematic plan.
“If you think that a plantain crop might benefit your lamb finishing operation, now is the time to start planning for next year.”
Mr Lane said planning would include selecting paddocks now, to be sprayed out in autumn to kill perennial weeds, followed by soil testing and necessary lime or fertiliser applications to lift pH to 5.8 and Olsen P to around 20. He then recommends sowing a winter Italian ryegrass crop.
“After grazing the Italian ryegrass through the winter, spray it out in September or October and sow your plantain crop.
“For farmers who have plantain crops underway for this summer our trials to date indicate that good phosphate, potash and sulphur fertility is required, and as with most crops strategic applications of nitrogen to maintain growth and protein levels through summer are important.”