Don't light up the value of your chaff heaps

ALLOWING sheep to feed on crop stubble has proved to be a low cost way of adding weight to sheep while saving time and money on supplementary feeding, according to a trial run by AgPro Management.
Don't light up the value of your chaff heaps Don't light up the value of your chaff heaps Don't light up the value of your chaff heaps Don't light up the value of your chaff heaps Don't light up the value of your chaff heaps

Kristy Moroney

Producers Ben and Emily Webb of ‘Marbarrup’ in Kojunup Western Australia farm 2150 hectares and run 4500 dual purpose Merino ewes and lambs on crop stubble on 935ha of non-arable pasture. A trial run by Ed Riggall at AgPro Management on the property in the summer of 2015–16 showed the sheep gained more weight when they had access to canola chaff heaps compared to grazing a similar paddock without chaff heaps.

Ben Webb said the sheep grazed on canola stubble for six weeks over December and January, gained an extra 3.8 kg/head over the gains made by sheep just grazing stubble. The nutrient analysis of the canola chaff heaps showed the feed value was 7.3 per cent crude protein and 6.1 MJ/kg DM metabolisable energy. 

Not only did the sheep gain additional weight, the Webb’s also saved time and money on supplementary feed that would be required to achieve the same weight gain.

AgPro Management calculated the benefit of grazing chaff heaps for a typical, model farm of 2000 ha with 50% crop and running 9.5 DSE/ha would be an average saving of over $29,000/annum and an internal rate of return on investment (ROI) on a chaff cart of 36% per annum over 20 years. 

“This is averaged across livestock weight gains achieved on canola, barley, wheat and oats chaff heaps in a detrimentally wet season,” Riggall said.

The Webb’s said in addition to this considerable benefit, they also saw a 25% improvement in lambing percentage in the ewes grazing the canola heaps compared to those just grazing stubble. 

“This is a direct consequence of the higher productivity from heavier ewes in higher body condition,” Webb said.

SHEEP AND CHAFF HEAPS

Team Weed Smart said the farmers at ‘Marbarrup’ found that their ewes and lambs did a good job of knocking down the heaps, particularly when a large mob is given access to the paddock for a short time. 

Prior to seeding grazed chaff heaps, the Webb’s often ran them over with a scarifier to spread the residue more evenly, making it easier to seed through the heaps and reduce the need to burn in autumn.

“Ungrazed heaps definitely shed rainfall better but under the right conditions the grazed heaps still burn very well if we decide that’s the way to go,” Webb said. 

“The sheep do best on the canola stubble so that is our priority for grazing. The canola heaps don’t generally need much done with them after grazing but I often burn the wheat, oat and some barley chaff heaps after grazing because they can be a pain to seed through,” he said.

“We have trialled narrow windrow burning here a few times but find that it is often too wet to achieve a good result. Moving to the chaff cart and grazing the heaps has been working better for us.”

WHAT ABOUT SHEEP AND SEED?

Scientific studies have shown that sheep do not spread weed seeds as the seeds are destroyed as they pass through the sheep’s gut. 

A study by CSIRO scientists in 2002 concluded that less than four per cent of annual ryegrass seeds consumed could survive passage through a sheep’s digestive system and similarly a 2010 international study showed both annual ryegrass and wild radish seeds were destroyed after two days in the rumen.

The team at ‘Marbarrup’ use the chaff cart on all their cropping land and have seen a reduction in herbicide use across the whole farm. In addition to harvest weed seed control with the chaff cart, the Webbs have also been including as many high biomass, competitive crops in their rotation as possible. 

Their current program includes canola, barley, lupin and wheat, with trial paddocks of faba bean.

The Webbs found that growing RR and RT canola has provided excellent biomass production and allows them to restrict the use of clethodim to the lupin phase of the cropping program only.

Frost is a concern every year and ‘Marbarrup’ has been heavily impacted in the last few years, one of the greatest difficulties being the unpredictability of frosts – early one year and late another. 

The Kojunup farms sows Calingiri, a noodle wheat, and Trojan, a bread wheat as early as possible to minimise the risk of frost damage.

WHAT ABOUT WEEDS?

Annual ryegrass, brome grass and wild radish are the Webbs’ main weed challenges and to-date the property’s herbicide resistance status is low. A quick test performed last year indicated that resistance to clethodim was building and this was a significant motivator for the Webbs to invest in the chaff cart.

Prior to sowing the farmer applies a double knock of glyphosate followed by paraquat mixed with a pre-emergent herbicide.

Ben Webb applies in-crop herbicides as required and hand treats any surviving wild radish plants. 

To reduce seed set they also crop top lupins and spray glyphosate under the swathe when windrowing canola. 

The team at ‘Marbarrup’ has also been trialling windrowing in wheat and barley, primarily as a harvest management tool that also has benefits for late frost avoidance and to reduce seed set in late germinating weeds. 

On the rare occasions that weeds have got out of hand, the Webbs have also used hay production as a way to reduce seed set and drive down weed numbers.

Planting on 229 mm (9 inch) row spacing and paired rows, the Webbs opt for higher end seeding rates for all crops to maximise yield and competition with weeds. Cutting the crop as low as possible and utilising the stubble as fodder makes planting on narrow rows easier to achieve.