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Plantain Proves Popular Alternative to Pasture

4 February 2014

Plantain Proves Popular Alternative to Pasture

A Hawke’s Bay on-farm trial shows lambs fatten faster on plantain and yield better than lambs grazed on pasture.

Awapai Station, which is a ram breeder for Focus Genetics recently carried out trials and then held an on farm field day for other farmers to find out more about plantain management.

The field day comes as more farmers turn to plantain as a popular, affordable alternative to pasture for fattening lambs and improving the condition of livestock for mating.

Many sheep and beef breeders and traders say plantain helps produce better growth rates.

Awapai farm manager, Shane Tilson says he has planted 80 hectares of mixed clover and tonic plantain in the last four years and is now seeing outstanding results.

“We did a research experiment this season where we grazed half our Highlander ewe hoggets with their Primera lambs on plantain and half on grass for the last month of lactation in December. The lambs that were weaned off the plantain were a kilo heavier in carcass weight than the lambs that were grazed on pasture. And the ewe hoggets weaned 1.2 kg’s heavier than those on pasture.

“48% of the lambs weaned off the plantain mob graded better off mum compared to 21% off the grass mob. It was clear the plantain lambs graded better, yielded better and put on weight faster.”

Mr Tilson says the lambs on the plantain put on 350 grams a day on average from date of lambing to weaning, which was a far better lactational growth rate than ever expected.

“The plantain is very palatable and seems to digest well. I find the lambs graze the whole paddock very evenly.

“Having plantain meant that during last years drought we were able to grow all our Primera rams out to meet contractual demands from farmers. Without plantain we would have been very challenged.”

Mr Tilson says plantain enables them to get their replacement highlander ewe lambs to a mature body weight earlier.

“We can mate our hoggets earlier so we can get the genetic gains earlier without compromising growth rates.

“We just weaned our hogget replacements in January. They came off the plantain at 66.5 kilos. They had put on 4.5 kilos while also rearing a lamb, so we were thrilled with their performance.”

Mr Tilson says to reap the benefits of plantain it must be managed well.

“You really have to keep on top of it. We graze it when the height of the plantain is the height of a stubby beer bottle and we take the stock out when it’s the height of a stubby beer bottle lying on it’s side. You can’t just stick your stock in there and forget about them.”

Opepe Trust Farm Manager, Ryan Mason has planted over 300 Hectares of tonic plantain on his Central Plateau farm and says it’s been one of the best decisions he has ever made.

“We have light soil and poor fertility as well as challenging climatic conditions so we need a crop that can handle our harsh environment. We need something that can give us growth all year around and plantain provides the answer.”

Opepe Trust grazes dairy heifers and calves on the plantain and also finishes its Primera/Highlander and Primera/Romney lambs on plantain.

The farm produces 10,500 lambs and sells some fat and some store.

“Plantain has enabled us to lamb earlier and get better results. We drafted 50 percent of our lambs off mum fat this year which is a record for Opepe Trust, given we farm in such a tough climate.”

The property used to have 100 percent brown top grass but ten percent is now plantain and Mr Mason says he is looking to grow more.

“Plantain is a good year round plant that is low cost and is easy to establish in a low fertile environment. We have piece of mind knowing we have the feed available going into the winter and during droughts. This enables us to focus on good genetics and management.”

Agricom Eastern North Island Sales Manager, Hamish Best says its tonic plantain sales have increased over the last three years as farmers are seeing it as a cheap year round cropping option.

“Tonic plantain is the next big step forward for hill country breeding units. Farmers are now able to put their ewes having multiples onto a feed source that puts weight on the ewe and her lambs, improving the percentage of lambs weaned direct to slaughter.”

Focus Genetics chief executive, Gavin Foulsham says he has welcomed farmers’ interest in plantain and was pleased with the field day turn out at Awapai Station.

“Shane had told us of his outstanding results, and it was important for us to share these with other farmers.”

Mr Foulsham was keen to encourage farmers to challenge their genetics to deliver on the promise, and reap the rewards of that investment.

“I think Awapai’s results demonstrate the value of matching your investment in forage, with an appropriate investment in genetics or vice versa.”

“It makes sense that if you are going to invest in quality genetics, you need to ensure that you are providing them with the forage that allows the animals to express their genetic potential. Awapai’s results with plantain have really hammered home that message!”


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