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Low-input, high-quality legume hays for north Queensland.

Kendrick Cox1, Mark Keating1, Steven Dayes1 and Chris Gardiner2

1 DEEDI, PO Box 1054, Mareeba, Q4880. www.deedi.qld.gov.au Email kendrick.cox@deedi.qld.gov.au
2
James Cook University, JCU, School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, Townsville Qld 4811 Email christopher.gardiner@jcu.edu.au

Abstract

Perennial herbaceous legumes grown for hay can improve beef and dairy production in north Queensland through providing affordable high-quality (digestible protein) dry-season feed. Eleven Arachis ecotypes [A. pintoi (5), A. glabrata (3), A. paraguariensis (2) and A. kretschmeri (1)], two Stylosanthes guianensis varieties and two commercial Medicago sativa varieties were grown for hay under irrigation using standardised populations in replicated small-plots over two wet seasons (summer) and compared for dry-matter production and fodder quality using 8-week cutting cycles. Medicago sativa plants were damaged by leaf and stem diseases during wet summer periods reducing leaf and stem growth and resulting in open, weedy stands; the Arachis and Stylosanthes were relatively unaffected and exhibited strong summer-dominant growth throughout the study. There were significant species and varietal differences in biomass production and some A. pintoi, M. sativa and S. guianensis produced over 30 t DM/ha (above ground biomass) over a 19 month period. Arachis glabrata also yielded well (16-18 t DM/ha) following a prolonged establishment phase. Feed quality was high for all legumes, and overall best in the Arachis spp., with crude protein percentages mostly above 16% and high levels of protein and carbohydrate rumen degradability.

Key words

Hay, lucerne, stylo, peanut, north Queensland

Introduction

Dairy and beef-finishing industries on the Atherton Tablelands, north Queensland, require year-round supply of affordable high-quality (digestible protein and carbohydrates) feed to achieve meat and milk production at levels suitable for maintaining profitable enterprises. Most enterprises rely on pastures based on tropical grasses (Brachiaria, Panicum, Setaria) and legumes (Arachis, Centrosema, Neonotonia, Desmodium and Vigna). However, poor winter growth of these pastures results in a seasonal feed shortage, which is variously overcome through the use of expensive supplements or short-term irrigated temperate grass pastures. Perennial herbaceous legumes grown for hay could provide an affordable alternative.

Lucerne (Medicago sativa) has long been a highly productive legume hay in the sub-tropics (Cook et al. 2005; Lowe et al. 1988), but (anecdotal) producer experience suggested lucerne poorly tolerates the wet summer climate and acidic clay soils of the Atherton Tablelands. Some promising alternative legumes, including recently released legumes, had not been evaluated for hay production in the local area. These included two Colletotrichum-resistant Stylosanthes guianensis varieties and a range of Arachis spp., particularly within A. pintoi and A. glabrata. The S. guianensis have an erect and open growth habit similar to lucerne, whereas A. pintoi and A. glabrata form a dense canopy and spread through stolons or rhizomes. Other Arachis species with erect growth habits were also considered to have potential for hay production. All have excellent feed quality for ruminants; 12-25% crude protein content and dry matter digestibility of 50-73% (Cook et al. 2005).

Here, we report the results of a pilot experiment in which we sought to compare hay production of the promising legumes with lucerne varieties sold in north Queensland.

Methods

The experiment was conducted at the Queensland Government research station at Walkamin (17.14S, 145.43E; 630 m asl) on the Atherton Tablelands in north Queensland. The area had an upland tropical environment with annual summer-dominant rainfall of 1019 mm. The soil was a deep, free-draining krasnozem with a site slope <5. The previous crop was grass seed (Setaria surgens). Soil tests conducted immediately before cultivation revealed a near-neutral reaction (pHwater=6.7) and P, S, K, Mg levels optimum for legume production. The site was prepared using cycles of cultivation, rolling and controlling emerging weeds with glyphosate. Single superphosphate (200 kg/ha) and muriate of potash (100 kg/ha) were incorporated into soil during the final cultivation on 22 September 2009.

Plants of all but the A. glabrata types (Table 1) were established from seeds or cuttings and raised in a shade house. Appropriate Rhizobium inoculant was watered onto the seedlings. The A. glabrata lines were sourced from nearby plots. The plants were planted in 1.2 x 4.5 m plots in two replicates on 25 September 2009, either as seedlings or 25 cm lengths of rhizome (A. glabrata). There were 60 plants/plot arranged in four rows using 30 x 30 cm spacings. Weeds were controlled using herbicides at label rates (bentazone, sethoxydim and fluazifop-P) and hand-weeding. Irrigation was applied using overhead sprinklers to supplement rainfall (~25 mm/wk if no rainfall), particularly during May-November.

Two regrowth experiments were completed sequentially on the same plots: Experiment 1 – plots were cut immediately after every herbage sampling, at 8-9 week intervals, between 25 March 2010 and 14 September 2011; Experiment 2 – plots were sampled three times between 9 November 2011 and 31 January 2012 without cutting the plots. Cutting was completed with a side-arm mower set to 5 cm above ground level and the cut material was removed.

Plant ground cover and biomass were measured immediately before sampling herbage. Two randomly placed 0.5 m2 quadrats per plot were used for all measurements. Visual estimates of percentage ground cover were completed before cutting to 5 cm height, weighing wet samples and drying at 70C for 48 hours (until constant weight) before reweighing. The samples were ground (1 mm screen) and submitted to Dairy One™, United States, for plant nutrient analysis suitable for ruminants. Dairy One™ NIR calibration curves for lucerne, ‘legume’ (Stylosanthes) and peanut hay (Arachis) were used. Selected duplicate samples were analysed using wet chemistry to check NIR results. Daily temperature, rainfall, sunshine hours and pan evaporation data were collected at the Bureau of Meteorology weather station located 200 m from the experimental site.

Simple one-way analysis of variance was used to compare means. Those with a significant F-value were compared with Fischer’s least significant difference (P=0.05) procedure.

Results and discussion

Seasonal conditions and plant growth

Mean monthly temperatures ranged from 13.0-23.4 C (July 2010) to 21.4-31.9 C (November 2010) and were broadly representative of the area. Total rainfall of 713 mm during January-February 2010 was similar to the long term mean. However, November to March rainfall (1570 mm) in the second year was almost double the long-term average. A cyclone during early February 2011 caused some wind damage to plants.

The Stylosanthes and Arachis spp. grew vigorously in warmer months and growth appeared unaffected by insects or diseases. The M. sativa varieties, however, were damaged by foliar diseases (Cercospora, Leptospherulina and Heterosporium) and chewing insects during the wet summer months and weevils were found in the roots of sampled plants. Some individual plants had died by the end of the second year.

Colonisation of plots by plants varied between species (P<0.001, data not presented). The A. pintoi (stoloniferous) and A. glabrata (rhizomatous) plants colonised plots through lateral growth, whereas the other species had erect growth habits. The fastest to colonise plots were the S. guianensis and A. pintoi types with over 85% ground cover by 25 March 2010 and full cover thereafter. The A. glabrata and A. kretschmeri types, plus A. paraguariensis CQ1780, did not achieve similar cover until November 2010. Ground cover of the M. sativa varieties was poor (40-60%) resulting in the establishment of weeds which frequently needed to be removed by hand (unlike for the other species).

Hay biomass

Biomass production was seasonal for all species. Medicago sativa produced the most biomass during the winter months and the Arachis and Stylosanthes during summer (Table 1). The two M. sativa varieties produced high biomass yields (22.5 and 30.7 t DM/ha) over the 19 month assessment period despite damage by insects and diseases. However, biomass yields after this time were poor (1.5-2.2 t DM/ha) compared to some of the other legumes (5-10 t DM/ha) when grown for 139 days without cutting. Many individual plants had died by this time, presumably due to the accumulated damage caused by disease and insect pressure, indicating a limited productive life under regular cutting on acid clay soils in the upland environment of north Queensland.

Table 1. Above ground dry matter production (kg DM/ha) of 15 legume varieties grown in northern Queensland

 

Biomass of regrowth (kg DM/ha)

 

Experiment 1: cutting immediately after sampling

Experiment 2: no cutting

Sampling date

2010

     

2011

               

2012

25 Mar

7 Jul

30 Aug

1 Nov

11 Jan

15 Mar

10 May

20 Jul

14 Sep

   

9 Nov

13 Dec

31 Jan

Days from last cut

-

104

54

62

71

63

56

57

56

   

56

90

139

Arachis paraguariensis

CPI91419

440

492

268

964

1028

1796

364

60

88

   

2880

755

496

CQ1780

92

268

296

3048

4460

3824

1868

1032

1112

   

2420

3590

6231

Arachis glabrata

cv. Prine

236

164

0

924

4516

4424

2136

1144

692

   

2812

5240

5988

CPI93469

124

60

0

1776

4332

4596

2216

1612

0

   

3508

5310

5146

AGC93481

328

216

164

1452

4000

3660

1544

1308

924

   

3056

5740

6210

Arachis kretschmeri

CPI85804

568

372

520

1652

2584

1616

1040

292

40

   

540

627

2364

Arachis pintoi

cv. Amarillo

464

248

440

936

2168

2532

1160

564

556

   

2168

3530

4427

ATF2320

2136

1164

1252

5344

5512

4852

1812

1168

924

   

2420

6640

9295

ATF494

468

156

436

1680

4268

3120

1520

1540

1468

   

2752

4980

7126

ATF495

144

128

436

1640

3096

4248

1432

1268

1032

   

2448

4910

7884

CPI1006

6380

3516

1364

4388

4548

2640

828

1848

600

   

1752

4135

5732

Medicago sativa

cv. Q11

1924

2704

3228

3600

2860

2052

2964

1972

4320

   

5148

3360

2249

cv. Silverado

1384

1852

3068

2564

2668

1564

1944

1864

2420

   

3612

2240

1466

Stylosanthes guianensis

ATF3308

6036

2900

1760

4400

3472

4568

1180

1148

828

   

4712

6290

10725

ATF3309

6132

1508

684

4504

4524

5004

1112

452

1624

   

2988

5660

8248

LSD(P=0.05)

2004

488

696

1436

1536

1156

596

904

660

   

1108

1700

1820

F probability

<0.001 for all harvests

Table 2. Mean1 of dry matter production (kg DM/ha) and forage quality of samples collected on 1 November 2010 and 11 January 2011 and analysed separately by replicate and harvest date

 

Dry matter

Dry matter content

Crude protein

Rumen degrade
-able protein

Lignin

Acid detergent fibre

Neutral detergent fibre

Metabolis- able energy

Relative feed value2

 

(kg/ha)

(%)

(% dry)

(% dry)

(% dry)

(% dry)

(% dry)

(MJ/kg)

 

Arachis paraguariensis3

CQ1780

3755

28.37

13.68

64.50

5.80

30.10

39.65

10.42

154.5

Arachis glabrata

Prine

3621

26.70

16.24

61.92

7.32

32.58

38.92

9.81

159.9

CPI93469

3040

27.05

16.70

64.75

6.85

31.95

37.65

9.95

161.8

CPI93481

2726

25.63

16.73

64.00

6.90

32.62

37.07

9.96

161.5

Arachis kretschmeri

CPI85804

2094

26.24

16.83

69.50

5.73

27.05

33.15

10.92

191.2

Arachis pintoi

Amarillo

1711

23.42

17.68

67.92

6.25

28.15

34.02

10.80

183.9

ATF2320

5428

20.03

17.43

69.00

6.98

32.55

40.05

10.08

148.5

ATF494

2975

20.05

19.45

69.75

6.15

28.18

35.90

10.69

175.8

ATF495

2368

22.59

18.13

68.75

6.48

29.38

35.52

10.54

174.5

CPI1006

4776

22.66

19.10

71.22

5.71

28.20

32.82

10.91

192.5

Medicago sativa

Q11

3232

24.00

20.45

64.25

8.58

36.33

47.95

9.32

119.0

Silverado

2617

25.84

19.30

64.50

8.90

38.15

49.72

9.15

111.2

Stylosanthes guianensis

ATF3308

3941

19.46

16.88

60.25

9.65(6.1 wet)

39.55

49.35

8.58

110.0

ATF3309

4514

21.06

15.28

57.25

8.63(5.8 wet)

39.43

50.55

8.69

107.2

LSD(P=0.05)

1457

2.55

2.10

3.07

0.91

2.75

3.92

0.54

20.6

F probability

<0.001 for all indices

1 samples represent one quadrat (of two) from each of two replicates analysed separately

2 a calculated feed value: 100 represents M. sativa hay with 41% ADF and 53% NDF (Dairy One, 2012)

3 there was insufficient biomass of CPI91419 to complete nutrient analysis

The two S. guianensis types performed well in all but the winter months. Total biomass ranged from 28.3 to 31.0 t DM/ha over the cutting experiment, and summer 8-week cycles often yielded over 4.5 t DM/ha. Yields remained high until the end of the cutting experiment and 8.2 and 10.7 t DM/ha were produced over the following 139 days without cutting (Experiment 2). Plant crowns were woody by the end of the experiments but continued to produce green shoots indicating only minimal decline in feed quality.

There were considerable differences in biomass production between and within the Arachis spp. Arachis pintoi was the best performing species, while types CPI1006 and ATF2320 had high production, similar to the best Medicago and Stylosanthes lines during summer months. These, ATF494 and ATF495 produced 5.7-9.3 t DM/ha during the 139 day un-cut period. The three A. glabrata types and A.  paraguariensis CQ1780 also showed promise as each produced 16.7-18.2 t DM/ha over the 19 months after slow establishment and, when grown uncut for 139 days, yielded 5.1-6.2 t DM/ha. All Arachis were growing vigorously at the completion of the experiments in February 2012.

Hay quality

All varieties produced high-quality feed for ruminants but there was substantial variation between types/varieties and some clear species trends (Table 2). Protein content and digestibility were high overall; M. sativa (19.3-20.5%) and some Apintoi types (18.1-19.5%) had the highest crude protein contents and A. pintoi and A. kretschmeri the highest values for protein degradability (67.9-71.2%). The two S. guianensis and A. paraguariensis had lower values.

Lignin content (5.7-9.7% or 5.7-8.9% if wet chemistry values used for S. guianensis) and acid detergent fibre (28.2-39.6%) values were low overall, indicating high levels of microbial degradability and therefore value as a feed. Values for Arachis spp. were lower than for M. sativa indicating more rapid and complete digestion of the Arachis spp. by ruminants. Neutral detergent fibre values, a measure of the cell wall fraction and an indicator of feed intake, were also lower in the Arachis spp. (32.8-40.1%) than for M. sativa and S. guianensis (48.0-50.6%).

Metabolisable energy, a calculated estimation of the energy value of a feed based on protein, carbohydrate and fat content ranged from 8.6-10.9 MJ/kg, and was higher in the Arachis spp. than M. sativa and S. guianensis. Relative feed values, an estimation of overall feed value based on acid and neutral detergent fibre values, also indicated that the Arachis spp. were of particularly high feed value.

The NIR values presented here provided a satisfactory estimate of wet chemistry values in most instances. Paired samples were mostly within 5% of the wet chemistry values for the nutrient quality parameters discussed (data not presented). The notable exception was lignin content, which was 27-48% higher for S. guianensis (but not the other species) when estimated using NIR (both values presented).

Conclusions

  • Q11 and Silverado lucerne can produce satisfactory hay crops when grown under irrigation during the dry season (April-November), but long-term production is compromised by disease and insect damage during wet summer conditions. Vigorous summer-dominant growth and tolerance to cutting, pests and diseases indicate the assessed Arachis and Stylosanthes types are suitable for perennial hay production in north Queensland. Large yields of high-quality biomass indicate four A. pintoi types have excellent potential and three A. glabrata and one A. paraguariensis type also show promise. Two commercially available S. guianensis varieties were shown to produce excellent hay yields, although feed value was lower than for Arachis.

References

Cook BG, Pengelly BC, Brown SD, Donnelly JL, Eagles DA, Franco MA, Hanson J, Mullen BF, Partridge IJ, Peters M and Schultze-Kraft R (2005). Tropical Forages: an interactive selection tool. www.tropicalforages.info

Dairy One (2012). Understanding and significance of forage analysis results. www.dairyone.com/Forage/Factsheet/ForageAnalysis.htm.

Lowe KF, Bartholemew BL and Bowdler TM (1988). Hay production of lucerne cultivars in the Lockyer Valley, south-east Queensland. Tropical Grasslands 22, 184-189.

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