Making hay from medic pasture


conserving medic pods and straw

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The first stage in convincing farmers to adopted medic pasture is to produce a simple budget. This shows the changes in costs and returns when medic is grown and the increase in profit. Some sample budget forms are provided.
If the extremes of over-grazing and under-grazing can be avoided the medic pasture has a much greater chance of success. Some simple planning to provide a rough balance between the area of proposed medic pasture and the number of sheep will make grazing management much more straightforward.
The traditional method of medic pasture establishment in the WANA region over the last 25 years and in Australia for 80 years has been to sow medic seed into a well prepared seedbed. Medic seed can be costly and seedbed preparation and sowing is difficult for small farmers who lack the proper equipment.
Establishing medic pasture using pods is an innovation that offers many potential benefits particularly for small farmers. The method was first developed by ICARDA in Syria in the 1990's and now forms the basis of the Zaghouan rotation in Tunisia. It potential in the WANA region is considerable.
The parcour or rough grazing land occupies more than half of the cereal zone in the WANA region. Pasture establishment using seed has been difficult but pods may be a better option.
Grazing the green medic pasture is vital in make a profit, to control weeds and produce ample supplies of pods for future years. Farmers in the WANA region have developed innovations that take their grazing management to higher levels of efficiency than those achieved in Australia.
Pods provide a valuable feed supply in summer for sheep and are needed for the regeneration of the pasture in future years. Farmers must find a balance.
Measuring the pods is an important part of grazing management. We have made a separate topic so it can be printed and used as an extension guide for farmers.
The medic pasture has completed its first year. The pasture regenerates with the autumn rains. Farmers must decide whether to cultivate the land for cereals (the classic medic - cereal rotation) or leave it for another year or more. The options are discussed.


Making hay from medic is not as simple as it may seem. This chapter discusses the options and innovative rotations for medic hay production.
Turning the medic pasture into profits is the objective. This chapter shows how live-weights are increased, death rates reduced and lambing percentages increased. The new flock structure is more efficient and produces greater returns.
A check list of possible failures and what to do about them.





( Traditional rotation)




Cereal crop sown

Cereal crop sown

Cereal crop sown

Cereal crop sown


Cereal crop grows

Cereal crop grows

Cereal crop grows

Cereal crop grows


Cereal crop matures

Cereal crop matures

Cereal crop matures

Cereal crop matures


Cereal crop harvested
Stubble grazed by livestock

Cereal crop harvested
Stubble grazed by livestock

Cereal crop harvested
Stubble grazed by livestock

Cereal crop harvested
Stubble grazed by livestock


Weeds germinate naturally

Medic regenerates from seed
produced 18 months earlier.
No cultivation of the land required.

Land cultivated and sown to vetch or similar forage legumes.

Land cultivated and sown to grain legume such as lentils or
chick peas.


Weeds grazed. Low stocking rate.

Medic pasture grazed. High stocking rate.

Grazed or more often left for hay.

Grain legumes grow.


Land cultivated for fallow

Medic grazed. Pods produced for future regeneration.

Cut for hay.

Grain legumes mature.


Bare soil vulnerable to erosion.

Pods and stubble grazed.

Stubble grazed.

Grain legumes harvested.

Stubble grazed.


Cereal cycle begins again.

Cereal cycle begins again

Cereal cycle begins again

Cereal cycle begins again

Demand for conserved feed

           The first question farmers need to ask is:

"What is the demand for hay and other conserved feed when the cereal-medic or Zaghouan 4 rotations are used?"

    * For feeding sheep in autumn.

    In  Grazing Green Medic we suggest that the flock of sheep is kept off the germinating medic pasture for a few weeks.

This is to allow the pasture to develop its photosynthetic factory. If the pasture completely covers the ground it will intercept all the available sunlight.

The sheep flock will need to be fed in the yard or shelter.

If the sheep are still 8 weeks from lambing an average quality feed is necessary. Medic straw (see below) is sufficient.

If the sheep are less than 6 weeks from lambing the quality of the feed needs to be better. Medic or vetch hay  (see below) should be used.

If the farmer is able to control the mating of the ewes he should try for a later lambing to avoid feeding them with more expensive hay.

   *  For feeding sheep in winter.

    In  Grazing Green Medic we suggest that the green medic pasture (when it is about 6 to 8 cm high and ready to graze) is mixed with cereal straw as a winter diet.

The poor quality straw provides an excellent diet when mixed on a daily basis with some high protein medic obtained from grazing.

On most farms there is sufficient cereal straw, particularly when the medic rotation is operating fully, and sheep have dry medic to graze for part of the summer.

On farms with only a small amount of cereals there may not be enough cereal straw. It may be necessary to purchase some. Medic straw (see below) can also be used.

In regions with very cold winters medium quality medic hay will be needed over a longer period in winter as there is no medic pasture growth during a large part of the winter.

    * For drought reserves.

    Medic hay, medic straw and cereal straw can all be used as drought reserves.

The major difference between annual feed and drought reserves is the need to store the feed for longer periods.

Farmers will not wish to invest in expensive hay sheds so cereal straw which can be stored without protection is better than medic hay or medic straw.

To provide some protein medic pods can be used as a supplement to the cereal straw. They are a more concentrated feed and justify some protection with plastic or cereal straw cover.

    *  For sale.

    If the farmer wants to sell hay as a regular crop it would be better to sow an oats and vetch mixture.

This will provide a good bulk of hay. It is the type of hay that is well accepted in the market. It is easy to cut and make. Yields are high.

There are advantage in using the vetch/oats as part of the rotation as a means of controlling weeds. Cutting the hay not only provides a good cash return but removes the weeds.

Medic hay can be made for sale but we suggest that it should be confined to years when there is a surplus of production above the farmer's requirements.

    * Summary of requirements.

    For the average farmer the following package of conserved feed is required:-

    + Autumn - some medic straw. Later lambing avoids the need for hay.

    + Winter - cereal straw to mix with green medic from grazed pasture.

    + Drought reserves - cereal straw, medic pods and medic straw.

Cutting and making medic hay and other feeds.

     * Cutting medic.

Medic is not as easy to cut for hay as vetch and oats. Medic is essentially a grazing plant. It has been selected to provide a low dense mat of pasture for grazing. Some medic such as the Snail group of cultivars are more erect and easier to cut. When cut with a mower it is easy to miss a considerable amount of medic as it passes under the mower.

How important this is depends on the purpose for making hay.

If the farmer wants to sell the medic hay as a cash crop the failure to cut a third or more of the medic is important.

If the farmer is merely cutting some surplus the uncut medic can be grazed after the hay is removed and is certainly not wasted.

The earlier the medic is cut the more difficult it is to get under the plants with the mower. Late cut medic hay or straw is taller and generally easier to cut. In some instances we have observed very tall and lush medic that has fallen on the ground and proved extremely difficult to cut as the mower passed over the long medic stalks lying on the ground. Again the material is not wasted if there are livestock to graze it.

    * Raking and hay making.

    Medic hay contains a large amount of high protein leaf but hay making techniques in the WANA region are not well adapted to this type of hay.

The common hay is vetch/oats or cereals alone.

The poor hay making means that a great deal of the medic leaf is left until it is too dry. It shatters and falls on the ground. Combined with the poor cutting the result from medic hay is often a disappointing yield.

If the farmer is making the hay for his own use this is not of great importance because the pasture residue (see below) can be used for grazing afterwards and the sheep will recover the uncut medic and most of the other material that escapes the baler.

    * Medic pods

    These are an excellent feed and drought reserve. The machine developed by ICARDA for harvesting pods is ideal for small quantities. The pods are used to establish medic pastures instead of using seed (See:  Establishment using pods ) The development of pod holding medic cultivars which can be harvested with a conventional cereal harvester make the use of pods as a reserve sheep feed a practical idea for medium and large farms. They would find the use of the ICARDA pod harvester too expensive.

It would be quite simple to upgrade the ICARDA harvester to a larger machine to harvest pods for sheep feed.

Managing the medic pasture for hay production

    * Destroying pod production.

Removing the pods from the pasture is the great danger from hay production. If the hay is cut late and there are no further rains the medic will not produce more pods and regeneration may fail in future years.

If medium to good quality medic hay is made in spring the hay is cut at early or mid flowering stage. The flowers are removed with the hay. The pasture is then left to grow again after cutting.

If the rain is good the pasture will produce more flowers. These will turn into pods and fall on the ground.

If the rain is poor few pods reach maturity and there is no seed available for future regeneration. The pasture may fail but there is a trade off. Early cutting produces lower yield, better quality and better pod production after the hay cut. Late cut hay produces higher yields, lower quality, and great risk of failure of pod production. It is also easier to make late cut hay than early cut hay because the weather is hotter and drier.

    * Don't make hay in the first year.

    With this danger of destroying the pod production never (really never!) make hay from a first year medic pasture.

It has been done, usually in response to a lack of grazing livestock. The results are usually disastrous. The medic fails to regenerate because pod and seed production after the hay cut was too low.

If the medic and the livestock balance was planned correctly hay production should not be needed as a means of obtaining some return from the medic. (see  Planning the stocking rate for medic

If a count of the pods is made after hay production it may be possible to save the pasture Grazing dry medic but usually the hay is made and the area then grazed. This removes the remaining pods and destroys the ability of the pasture to regenerate.

    * Early cut hay.

    One way of avoiding the problem of a lack of pod production is to cut the hay early. This provides more time afterward for re-growth and pod production. It is not recommended. Early cut hay is high quality and full of leaf. As most of the leaf is lost due to poor hay making techniques farmers will be disappointed with the results.

    * Mid season hay from long rotations and permanent pasture.

    This is an excellent option. On a permanent medic pasture hay can be cut every other year.

The pod production may be destroyed. The pasture in the other years produces pods. These carry the pasture over for regeneration in the following year. Farmers can make their decision without the need to balance hay production and pod production.

It is similar to a cereal-medic rotation. No pods are produced in the season of cereal production. No pods are produced (or relied upon) in the season of hay production. The pasture regenerates in both cases from reserves of pods in the soil.

If this system is used the lack of pod production can be turned into an advantage. After the pasture is cut for hay it is grazed heavily to control weed re-growth. This will help to reduce the reserves of weed seeds in the soil.

With the Zaghouan 4 rotation (see also Decisions in autumn ) do not make hay in the first season. Hay can be made in the second. The weeds can be controlled. The medic will regenerate in the third from pods produced in the first.
    The quality of the hay is good.

    * Late cut hay or medic straw.

    This is another good option. The medic pasture is left to drop most of the pods on the ground. The dry medic straw is cut and collected. The medic hay or straw is poor quality but better than cereal straw.


Typical hay found in WANA region. Made from cereals (perhaps with vetch) cut when still slightly green.

Feed from cereals

    Cereal straw is commonly used by farmers in the WANA region. Traditionally the straw is cut and baled. It is then transported and stored at the farm house.

    * Harvester residues.

    For small farmers without equipment for cutting and baling, the harvester residues could be a cheaper alternative.

It is comparatively easy to fit a catching cart behind the cereal harvester. The cart collects the straw, the chaff and the grain that passes through harvester and some of the weed seeds. The catching cart dumps the harvester residues when the cart is full.

Farmers can either feed the material directly in the field or cart it to their farm house without baling. In either case the weed seeds that are left on the ground should be destroyed. The harvester residues are a better feed than baled straw.

The chaff and grain is not collected by the baler. It is left on the ground to be grazed. Grazing is not an efficient means of recovering the grain and chaff and a large part is lost to the livestock. The strip of self sown cereal in the autumn demonstrate the wasted grain left on the ground.

    If a stripper is used instead of the conventional harvester the chaff and straw is collected with the grain and all are taken to the farm house. It is difficult to compare the harvester and the striper for this reason.

The harvester is efficient for grain but not chaff and straw. Once chaff and straw are considered as valuable the balance favours the stripper - particularly on small farms.

   * Improving the cereal straw.

    Straw is a poor feed for livestock.

Modern cereal varieties are usually worse than older varieties as plant breeders have selected for grain yield not feed value. The stalk is poorer quality than the flag or the chaff.

The low quality of the straw is due to low digestibility. The low digestibility has a double effect. Obviously only a part (usually less than half) can be digested. The straw also moves slowly through the rumen and gut of the animal. If the straw is improved by treatment the animal can digest a greater percentage of the straw.

Just as important is the fact that it moves more quickly through the rumen and gut. The animal therefore eats more. A few percent improvement in digestibility can increase the intake by a factor many time greater. The total intake of energy is increased by a great deal more than a few percent. Straw can be transformed from a feed on which animals lose weight to a maintenance diet or even slightly better than maintenance.

     * Medic supplement

    This is an easy an cheap means of improving the quality of cereal straw.

It is suitable for small farmers.

The sheep are fed as much straw as they can eat in the shelter at night. They are fed on the short medic pasture during the day. Provided the mixture is fed daily the digestibility of the straw is greatly improved and the sheep will thrive. Energy comes from the straw and protein from the medic. The system is dependent on the daily grazing routine.

It is not possible to feed straw to sheep grazing medic all the time. If they are on the pasture all day and night (as in Australia) they will not eat the straw. They will graze the medic extremely hard instead.

In the WANA region the diet can be controlled by adjusting the time spent on the medic each day.

    * Urea supplement.

    This is the easiest form of improving straw.

The sheep are fed straw and urea. The urea is usually in the form of a block that the sheep lick.

Small amounts of urea (large amounts are dangerous) are mixed with the straw and improve the growth of rumen bacteria and the rate of digestion. The technique is effective when straw and urea blocks are together in the farmyard for example. When used in the field (sheep grazing cereal stubble) the results are more erratic as it is more difficult to obtain a steady supply of urea mixed with the straw.

    * Urea treatment.

    This is really a form of alkali treatment of the straw.

Urea is the most convenient source of alkali for farmers in the WANA region.

Greater quantities of urea are used. The urea is mixed with water. The straw is soaked with the liquid. The urea breaks down due to bacterial action. Ammonia gas is released. It acts as an alkali on the straw and improves the digestibility. Depending on the temperature the straw can be fed to the animals in 15 days.

For best results the straw should be covered to trap the ammonia but larger quantities can be treated without covering but the outer layers will not be treated effectively. The cost is higher. More urea is needed. More work is required. The improvement is greater.

Drought reserves

     All the above can be used as a drought reserve but cereal straw and treatment is one of the best options. Drought reserves become more important as farmers increase their flock numbers. When there is a drought and the pasture does not germinate it does not matter whether it is potentially productive medic or unproductive weeds. Farmers will need a number of strategies to cope with drought including feed reserves, money reserves and sales.

    * Low value.

    Cereal straw has a low opportunity cost and value. The farmer is therefore not locking away for a number of years a potentially valuable source of income.

    * Low storage cost.

    The straw can be stored in a stack and protected from the weather using a straw thatch. This is most effective for many years. My experience is that stacks of straw twenty years old are in perfect condition when properly thatched. Baled straw needs more care than loose straw which virtually thatches itself.

    * Treatment.

    Treatment is needed to convert the straw into a reasonable drought feed. While this is an additional cost it occurs only when the straw is used. The additional labour should be available during a drought as it is pointless to graze the animals in the field. They will lose weight. The energy expended seeking pasture is greater than the intake of pasture.