MEDIC PASTURE

 

Planning the areas of medic

to achieve a balance

between the pasture and the livestock

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Photo guide to grazing medic provides details of production levels for medic pasture at various stages of growth

CHAPTER HEADING

SUMMARY OF CONTENTS

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.

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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.
 

FOUR COMMON ROTATION ON THE GROUND IN THE WANA REGION

SEASON

ROTATIONS

CEREAL - FALLOW

CEREAL - MEDIC
( Traditional rotation)

CEREAL - VETCH

CEREAL - GRAIN
LEGUME.

AUTUMN

Cereal crop sown

Cereal crop sown

Cereal crop sown

Cereal crop sown

WINTER

Cereal crop grows

Cereal crop grows

Cereal crop grows

Cereal crop grows

SPRING

Cereal crop matures

Cereal crop matures

Cereal crop matures

Cereal crop matures

SUMMER

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

AUTUMN

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.

WINTER

Weeds grazed. Low stocking rate.

Medic pasture grazed. High stocking rate.

Grazed or more often left for hay.

Grain legumes grow.

SPRING

Land cultivated for fallow

Medic grazed. Pods produced for future regeneration.

Cut for hay.

Grain legumes mature.

SUMMER

Bare soil vulnerable to erosion.

Pods and stubble grazed.

Stubble grazed.

Grain legumes harvested.

Stubble grazed.

AUTUMN

Cereal cycle begins again.

Cereal cycle begins again

Cereal cycle begins again

Cereal cycle begins again

WHAT IS THE PROBLEM? 

    The stocking of medic pasture with livestock is essential.

Medic pasture must be grazed and grazed correctly to control weeds and maintain productivity. Farmers will need to learn grazing management.

 
Grazing management is balancing the requirements of the animal against those of the plant.
 

Animals need adequate feed every day. They provide the farmer with profit. Well fed animals provide higher profits.
AGAINST
Pastures must be allowed to grow sufficiently to build a photosynthetic factory. If the pasture plants do not cover the ground and intercept the available sunlight growth will be reduced. Later the pasture must produce seed to ensure regeneration.

 Unfortunately many project managers have not understood the importance of medic grazing. This can best be illustrated by some examples: 

    Under grazing of medic.

    A FAO project in Algeria in the early 1970s treated (at least in the initial stages) medic as a "green manure" to provide nitrogen and organic matter for the cereal crop.

Grazing was considered of no importance.

The medic was sown on some hundreds of state and co-operative farms. Some had no sheep at all. On others no attempt was made to instruct managers in medic grazing. The medic failed on nearly all the farms because it was severely under-grazed.

The medic pasture was infested with weeds. The grass weeds shaded the medic. It was unable to compete. It produced little nitrogen for the next cereal crop and pod production was low. 

The weeds produced abundant seed which carried over to the cereal crop. Yields declined and most farms quickly abandoned medic.

One or two farm managers mastered the medic system and achieved remarkable increases in livestock production (one farm went from 500 to 2000 sheep) and some increases in cereal yields (about 50%).

The project through its poor initial planning set medic back in Algeria for almost a decade.

    Over grazing of medic.
 

    At the other extreme in Cyprus medic pasture was established on a number of common grazing areas.

Many farmers had grazing rights to these areas. They were carefully controlled by the government authorities. The stocking rate in some cases amounted hundreds of sheep per hectare. The pastures were therefore grazed on the basis of a few days per month. A slight mistake in the number of days or even the number of hour of grazing by these large flocks resulted in severe over-grazing.


    These two examples illustrate the extremes where medic grazing management is almost impossible.

In Algeria it was obviously impossible if there were no sheep at all.

In Cyprus trying to graze a pasture with hundreds of sheep per hectare left no margin for error. An extra few hours grazing could severely damage the pasture.

    These are extreme examples of establishing a medic pasture without thinking about the subsequent grazing management.

There are many projects in the WANA region that are not as extreme but where medic was introduced with little thought for the grazing management.

For example an IFAD funded project in Tunisia in the 1980s provided small farmers with small medic pastures.

These pastures were planned at the regional office with no reference to the farmer's flock. Some were too small and some too big. It was assumed that those farmers without sheep would be provided with "sheep loans" by the project but the sheep on loan rarely arrived on time and the medic pastures were severely under-grazed. Weeds were a severe problem.

    No one seems to have considered working the other way.

Instead of planning 2 ha or 5 ha or whatever area of medic pasture for each farmer the area should have been based on the existing flock size.

Grazing management is still required but the farmer will be working within limits that are achievable.

Grazing 5 ha with 5 sheep will always lead to under-grazing. It is useless to blame the farmer. The task is impossible.

Grazing 5 ha with 100 sheep is not impossible but requires a high level of skill. It is quite unreasonable to expect a farmer beginning on a medic program to have such a high level of management skills.

ACHIEVING A BALANCE
 

    The aim when planning the area of medic to be sown should be to achieve a rough balance between the flock size and the intended area of medic.

Farmer will still need to understand grazing management but they will be working within limits where the extremes of over-grazing and under-grazing can be avoided. The stocking rate estimates for these proposed medic pastures will not be precise.

They will only be a rough balance. If the calculations show for example an area of 3.2 ha of medic is required the farmer will sow an area approximately that size. If a 3 ha field is available that will be sown. If a 3.5 ha field is available that will be sown - not 3.2 ha of it.

MEASUREMENT OF GRAZING
 

    There are two common methods of measuring grazing. One from Europe and one from Australia that reflect the farming and cultural traditions in those regions.

* The European system.

    This reflects the European farming system where livestock are kept inside buildings and fed on hay, silage, grain or freshly cut pasture of forage.

The system converts all the feed supply into units and these are then balanced against the units required by the livestock.

In the WANA region the grazing tradition is still strong and use of feed units as an intermediate step in the calculations is unnecessary. It is complex. Farmers are unlikely to take the trouble.

* The Australian system.

    This reflects the Australian farming system where livestock are grazed outside all the year.

While they are moved from field to field (paddock to paddock is the Australian usage) they spend long periods in one field.

A system based on a grazing year is therefore reasonable. The basic unit under the Australian system is the DSE (Dry Sheep Equivalent). This is the amount of feed required by an adult, castrated male sheep to maintain a constant body weight for a year. As the main output of the Australian sheep industry is wool and many adult castrated males are kept for wool production this is a sensible basic unit. Other sheep are then ranked as DSE units. A female sheep with lamb is classed as 1.5 DSE and cattle as 10. There are many other classification for young sheep, beef cattle, milking cattle, horses etc. all expressed in DSE units. 

A NEW SYSTEM FOR THE WANA REGION
 

    Neither of these two systems are particularly well suited to the WANA region.

    * The European system is too complex.
    * The assumptions of the Australian system do not apply

The Australian system is based on a castrated adult male sheep. Male sheep are not castrated in the WANA region. Only a few adult males are kept for breeding. The majority of males are killed for meat before they reach maturity. The Australian system is based on a grazing year but flocks are move on a daily basis in the WANA region..

    A more suitable system for the WANA region would be one:

    * Based on a female sheep producing a lamb. This is probably the most common unit of livestock in the WANA region.

    * As the livestock are taken out to the pasture each day a measurement system based on a GRAZING DAY rather than a grazing year as in Australia is more sensible.

There is a danger in the use of Grazing Days.

Body weight will change. A Grazing Day in spring on medic pasture is not the same as a Grazing Day in late summer on cereal stubble.

Sheep on medic in spring will gain weight and sheep on cereal stubble at the end of summer will lose weight. The requirement of a ewe carrying a lamb or milking are higher than at other times of the year.

    In spite of this weakness the system of Grazing Days should be used on the basis of clarity and simplicity.

CONVERSION TO MJ.

The requirement for a Grazing Day can be expressed in Megajoules (MJ) of energy per day per sheep. The amount required varies over the year from perhaps 9 to 11 and with the mature body weight of the breed but a figure of 10 MJ per day = 1 Grazing Day would be a reasonable conversion.
 

A GRAZING DAY BUDGET
 

The calculation is as follows:

Production from pasture and other sources in Grazing Days.

1 ha of medic pasture provides
(For details of grazing days from medic see Photo Guide to Grazing)
= GD of grazing as green pasture in autumn, winter and early spring.
1 ha of medic pasture provides
= GD of dry grazing in late spring and summer.
1 ha of cereal stubble provides
= GD of grazing in summer.
Grazing available from parcour
= GD This will depend on the improvement of the parcour. The natural parcour without seeding and fertiliser produces some grazing in spring.

Total number of grazing days available

= GD


 
 
 
Number of sheep on farm X 365
= GD required for sheep
Number of cattle on farm X 3650
= GD required for cattle.
Total number of  GD needed by sheep and cattle
= GD

Calculate total GD available from feed resources on the farm (the weeds on the fallow are not included as most of this will be sown to medic pasture) before medic is sown:-

Grazing days from cereal stubble
= GD available.
Grazing days from parcour
= GD available.
Total available from existing grazing resources
= GD
 
 
GD required by livestock
MINUS
GD available.
EQUALS
GD deficit.

The Grazing Days deficit may seem to be a little strange. After all the livestock have been kept on this farm for years and a high proportion have survived.

The weedy fallow is not included in the feed resources as this produces only a small amount of feed for a short period before it is cultivated.

The real reason for the deficit is that with medic pasture the flock will have a much higher standard of nutrition. This is explained in more detail in Profit from Livestock. The flock is managed to thrive not just survive.

The extra nutrition will mean that lambs grow more rapidly and to a greater body weight in the spring.

Young female sheep grow to breeding weight more rapidly.

The number of sheep dying over the summer is reduced.

The breeding females will have a higher body weight when mated. Their lambing percentage will be higher. Their lambs will be heavier and they will give more milk.

GD deficit
DIVIDED BY
GD available from each ha. of medic pasture.
EQUALS
Area of medic pasture that should be sown.

Using a Grazing Day budget to plan the area of medic will improve the chances of success and make the management of grazing considerably easier.
 

AN EXAMPLE:

    Let us say a farmer has a farm of 20 ha and  20 sheep.

    These 20 sheep require 7300 GD of feed per year.

    Let us say there is 10 ha of cereal stubble available for four months which provide 2400 GD

    There is no parcour and the 10 ha of weedy fallow produces only a small part of of the deficit say 1800 GD.

    The deficit is 3000  to 4900 GD depending on whether the poor weeds on the fallow are counted.

    Let us say that one hectare of medic provides 1500 GD

    3 to 3.5 ha of medic (that is 4500 to 5250 GD) would provide a good balance between the flock of 20 sheep and the pasture and cereal stubble.

Grazing Days required per year for 20 sheep to achieve high levels of production.

7300 GD

Available from cereal stubble

2400 GD

Available from weedy fallow

1800 GD

Total available

4200 GD

Deficit

3100 to 4900 GD depending on whether the weedy fallow is counted

Feed available from 1 ha of medic pasture

1500 GD per year

Deficit divided by medic feed from one ha.

3 to 3.5 ha of medic would give a generous but not too generous amount of feed for the flock.

    If the farmer sowed all the 10 ha of fallow to medic pasture at once under-grazing would be a problem.

10 ha would produce 15,000 GD per year or more than double the amount needed by 20 sheep. They could not possibly eat this amount of feed. The under-grazed pasture would become dominated by weeds and productivity would fall.

    If the farmer sowed 1 ha of fallow to medic over-grazing would be a problem. 1 ha would provide 1500 GD or about a third of the deficit.

    Of course the existing 10 ha of fallow are being grazed during six months of the year. The fallow does not provide the deficit of 5100 GD  (500 GD per ha.) needed by the flock.

The sheep are taken out to graze the fallow but will need supplementary hay or grain to maintain their weight. Fallow will usually supply about 180 GD per ha. per year.

10 ha of fallow will produce 1800 GD and the remaining 3300 GD deficit will be met by supplements or the productivity of the flock will be low. Usually there is some supplementary feed but not enough to obtain a high output of meat from the flock.

LIMITATION OF GRAZING DAYS
 

    * A major limitation to the use of Grazing Days is that it fails to measure the quality of the feed. In the above example the fallow is given a value of 180 GD per ha per year but the quality is poor and sheep will not thrive on the weeds even if the number of sheep is reduced considerably.

    * The Grazing Day budget does not take account of when the feed is available. If there were 30 ha of cereal stubble providing 7200 GD to the flock of 20 sheep in the above example the deficit would not be filled. The 7200 GD are only available during the summer. The sheep need feed for the whole year.

    * Provided the Grazing Day budget is not taken as a precise measure it can provide a useful tool to farmers and extension agent planning the establishment of a medic pasture.
 

FINE TUNING GRAZING DAYS
 

  A Grazing Day is the amount of feed required per day by a breeding sheep.

A more detail description is provided below. It can be seen that the STANDARD UNIT is the 50 kg sheep at the later stage of pregnancy. Other stages, heavier sheep and lambs are compared to this unit.

Breeding sheep.

Live weight of sheep in kg.

Sheep not pregnant or early stage of pregnancy.

Sheep later stage of pregnancy.

Sheep lactating and with young lambs beginning to graze.

50 kg

0.7 grazing day

 1  grazing day

2 grazing day

60 kg

0.8  grazing day

1.1 grazing day

2.3 grazing day


 Growing lambs

Live weight of lamb in kg.

Growth of 50 gm. per lamb per day

Growth of 100 gm. per lamb per day

Growth of 150 gm. per lamb per day

20 kg

0.5 grazing day

0.6  grazing day

0.7 grazing day

40 kg

0.7 grazing day

0.85 grazing day

1 grazing day


The above table provides a further explanation of the the difference between the current "survive" flock management and the possibilities under a "thrive" management system.