Forage crops are crops grown specifically to be grazed by livestock or conserved as hay or silage.
Forage crops assist in achieving production targets for attributes such as growth or weight gain and to make up seasonal short falls between feed demand and supply. They can also play an important role in maintaining ground cover, preventing erosion, accumulating nitrogen in the soil and improving land condition.
Forage crops can be an important tool for producers, provided the right crop is selected and carefully managed during establishment and grazing to ensure maximum productivity is achieved.
A range of forage crops are available to producers. The right crop will depend on the quality and quantity of feed required to meet the enterprise production objectives as well as other factors such as soil type, climate, water availability, drainage, weeds and disease.
Careful selection will help ensure good plant growth and grazing potential.
Soil nutrition, weed control and sowing or seeding are important considerations when seeking to establish a forage crop.
Good soil nutrient levels are important in ensuring vigorous forage crop establishment. While the fertiliser history of a paddock can provide an insight into the likely levels of key nutrients, the only way to be sure of the soil nutrient profile is to undertake a soil test.
Conventional, minimum till and no till sowing can be used in the establishment of a forage crop. Whichever method is used, it is important to ensure good soil to seed contact as this is critical in achieving good seed germination.
Weed management is best undertaken prior to or at the time of sowing to minimise the amount of competition with the establishing crop. Whether or not the forage crop is part of an ongoing rotation will influence both the choice of crop and the options available for weed control.
Once established, careful management is required to ensure that the crop is fully utilised in its most productive and nutritious phases of growth. Pests and diseases must also be managed to minimise their impact on productivity.
A well-considered grazing strategy is important in maximising the productive potential of a fodder crop. Forage crops can either be grown exclusively for hay or silage production or grazed before being set aside for fodder conservation.
The timing of both grazing events and the cutting for hay or silage are critical to ensuring that the quality and quantity of conserved fodder are optimised.