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Present drought conditions are spreading and will remain with us for some time.
Short term, dairy production will suffer as will the welfare of cattle. Long term, sheep, beef and dairy production will be affected into next year.
There is little that can be done with this drought for animal welfare and production. However, let us look positively to the future.
I am of the opinion that the benefits of establishing tree lucerne as a fodder crop on farms to support livestock during stress periods because of feed shortages from whatever cause should be encouraged and supported by everyone.
Tree lucerne can be established in two years, will regrow in 40-50 days following hard grazing as well as being more economical than bought-in feed supplements.
Plants will grow on a range of soil types, trees will yield palatable and nutritious green feed over many years, feed material has a high protein content as well as crude fibre.
The tree is a free-seeding shrub and will thrive on a variety of soils in districts that may suffer prolonged drought. It has protein-rich branches, greyish leaves and lovely creamy flowers. The plant will withstand extremes of temperatures ranging from -9degC to 50degC. It grows high and wide, also providing wonderful shelter.
Tree lucerne can be used for stock food throughout the year, is not toxic, does not contract diseases and does not cause bloating. In fact, it improves animal health, at the same time lifting the nitrogen content of the soil.
Stock farmers, in particular dairy farmers, can use tree lucerne all year round and may reduce costs of other supplementary foods.
Best methods of growing and managing tree lucerne is by growing trees in strips 8m-10m apart and trees spaced 2m-3m apart and grazing by electric fencing.
Sound management and stock control will produce 11-16 tonnes of dry matter per hectare, at the same time controlling any regrowth by heavy grazing with sheep.
Growing tree lucerne has other benefits including providing food for bees, providing shelter, providing habitat for birds, preventing soil erosion and acting as a wind break for lambing. It will also recover following fire.
What a wonderful sustainable plant that will repay many times its establishment costs. Judicious planting, management and grazing of tree lucerne should be encouraged.
As a farming nation, we must review and promote any improvements possible in order to maintain a high standard of animal welfare and productivity. Come on - let's give it a go.
- Alan Diack is a Dunedin man who has worked in animal welfare for more than 50 years.