Early research into high sugar ryegrass suggests positive lamb performance

Preliminary results from research undertaken by Alliance Group suggest that lambs grazing on Aber high sugar ryegrass perform well compared to lambs grazing on standard ryegrass.

Alliance Group and Germinal Seeds NZ have completed the first year of a two-year independent study into the productive performances of lambs grazing on the two ryegrass varieties on three properties.

According to the findings, lambs grazing on the Aber high sugar ryegrass (HSG) on two farms grew 30-40 grams faster a day than lambs grazing on standard ryegrass (SRG).

The AberHSG lambs on one farm also reached slaughter weights on average three days earlier than the SRG lambs, while on two farms, the AberHSG lambs had 0.6-0.9kg heavier carcase weights.

Murray Behrent, general manager of Livestock at Alliance Group Limited, said there was substantial farmer interest in high sugar ryegrasses with many believing the HSG varieties offer good dry matter yield, high palatability and improved livestock growth rates.

“There is very little HSG research looking at lamb performance in New Zealand farming systems. Finding efficiencies that can enhance economic returns behind the farm-gate is a top priority for Alliance Group and this type of study can have an immediate benefit.

“Alliance Group is always proactively seeking ways to improve farm productivity and its financial returns to suppliers.”

He added: “Although the results are preliminary, Alliance is committed to investing in on-farm research. The results to date already indicate a positive payback for suppliers. We await with interest the second year’s results so we can develop a better understanding of the economic impact HSG is having on-farm.”

British supermarkets have encouraged New Zealand farmers to use Aber high sugar ryegrass to speed up lamb finishing and improve their carbon footprint, said Mr Behrent.

Hadyn Craig, research consultant with AbacusBio, which led the research, said: “Increased growth rates can produce significant benefits for farmers by bringing their average kill date forward.

“This means lambs are gone earlier and feed can be utilised for other purposes, including improved feeding of capital stock or finishing store animals.”

Although a third farm showed no weight differences, technical difficulties experienced during the establishment of the study are believed to be a contributing factor, he said.

The second year of the trial will measure pasture variables to understand what could be driving the differences. This will include a full year of dry matter yield, botanical composition, water soluble carbohydrate (sugar) and metabolisable energy.

Animal performance assessment will include regular and multiple weighing, faecal egg counts and detailed record keeping of farmer interactions. A return on investment for both grass options will also be considered.

Three properties were chosen for participation in the study. These were located at Hedgehope (Southland), Dunrobin (West Otago) and Ohai (Southland). All three properties were chosen due to the rolling topography and were considered a good representation of land classes in the southern region.

Soil testing was undertaken after pasture was established to understand if there were any fertility differences between paddocks that could potentially affect pasture growth, with results showing that all properties had good soil fertility with pH, nitrogen and phosphorous levels within the optimal range.

Alliance Group is a co-operative owned by approximately 5,000 farmer shareholders and is the world’s largest processor and exporter of sheepmeat.

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