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Mainstar forage rape increases weights at Beaufort

James Kirkpatric, Beaufort VIC

The Kirkpatrick family only made one small change to their summer forage program last season, but it made a big difference.

When they couldn’t get seed for a spring canola crop, they switched to the new Mainstar forage rape from DLF Seeds and it quickly became something of a weight gain ‘super feed’ for the sheep graziers. In fact, through March and April this year, they were fattening more than 650 sheep on just 17 hectares of the crop.  

James Kirkpatrick and his son, James, a recent Marcus Oldham graduate, produce wool and prime lambs as well as growing canola, wheat and barley on their 1300 hectare farm near Beaufort. James was happy to share his first Mainstar experience with other farmers who haven’t yet tried the new forage rape

“Mainstar was a really good feed option for putting weight on the sheep and lambs and getting them in good condition for sale quickly,” he said. 

“Lucerne’s a good summer feed, but for the sheep we want to sell, they get there quicker on Mainstar.” The Kirkpatrick’s farm is on rolling hills south of Beaufort with phalaris and clover stands and ryegrass and clover mixes, as well as an increasing area sown to lucerne. 

They have received a touch more than their annual average rainfall of 687 mm over the past two years and can comfortably manage a carrying capacity of more than 10 DSE/ha. The Kirkpatricks recently added another 350 hectares of leased land to breed more lambs and expand their cropping area.“We were running at fairly full capacity, so now we can buy a few more sheep, breed the numbers up and put a couple of extra paddocks of crop in as well,” he said.

They sowed the Mainstar forage rape after a failed barley crop into a full profile of soil moisture in mid-November. While it was a relatively dry summer on the farm, Mainstar established quickly and was ready to graze in just seven and a half weeks. 

The grazing program started with 150 shorn lambs in early January. But James said the crop really took off after a good 20 mm of rain in March. “It just went gangbusters and never looked bad, it was phenomenal,” he said. They added another 250 older ewes on to the Mainstar crop, as well as 260 more lambs. “As soon as we put the lambs in, they went on it straight away,” he said.

“As most graziers would know, that’s not the case with the older rape varieties. The lambs will eat everything else in the paddock before they even try it, around the fences, on the dam bank, even pine needles, so you had to put dry feed in with them and it was about a week or ten days before they really got stuck into it."

“Mainstar has a wonderful capacity to produce a lot of leaf and the lambs get a big mouthful of it and while they’re chewing they’ve got their front teeth grabbing the next one – it’s like kids scoffing free lollies.”

James said he also noticed the taproot was bigger and thicker than that of Winfred forage brassica, making it excellent for chasing nutrients and moisture, while the stem was about one and a half times thicker than Winfred. He said the lambs were eating it down to the ground, stems and all. “Every time it rained, the Mainstar produced a new mass of leaf back on the root crown,” he said. “It grew much more quickly than Winfred, the rain just recharged it.”

They continued to stock more than 400 sheep on the crop until late May, when the last lambs were weighed and turned off in excellent condition, ready for market.

James said adopting new varieties was a key way to improve their grazing business.

“These new pasture and forage crop varieties coming out are there to provide more feed for your stock – they grow more and recover better after grazing – so you’ve got to give them a go,” he said.

“The seed might be a bit dearer, but it costs no more to sow it. It’s the same fertiliser, the same spray for the paddock and diesel cost, but it’s the amount of feed you get off it that makes the difference. With a good quality crop like Mainstar, you might be able to put more stock on, or not sell your lambs as early, so you can get a few more kilograms on them before you have to turn them off. At times this year, the difference between trade weight and heavy in lambs has been as much as $80 or $90 a head so that flexibility is very valuable.”

The Kirkpatricks sprayed out their Mainstar forage rape in May to make way for barley. They have a 20 hectare paddock earmarked for their next Mainstar crop and intend to break it up into sections for grazing.

“I think it will be good to have at least two paddocks next time, so it can be grazed more evenly,” he said. Mainstar can be sown from August to November and can be carried through for grazing into winter if required or used as a first step towards an autumn pasture renovation. 

For more information on Mainstar forage rape seed, contact your local DLF Seeds Sales Agronomist.