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Newsletter | August 2019

An appreciation for livestock research

WALRC team members often comment about the extent of livestock production research that is underway in WA and grapples with how we go about ensuring livestock producers are aware of the extent of what is done on their behalf.

At this month’s Council meeting, researchers from UWA, DPIRD, CSIRO and Murdoch chose several projects each to showcase, using the opportunity to get feedback from the producer council members to ground-truth the value of their work.

WALRC producer member Jess Horstman, Northampton, reflected on the showcase:

 “Coming from a large cropping area, it was great to hear from four research institutions in WA that are currently doing research based on where producers in WA have indicated there was a gap,” Jess said.

“I was particularly interested in the modern stubbles project from CSIRO. It is exciting to think that we will get hard data on the drivers of stubble and chaff pile quality and as a consequence be able to better manage stubble grazing. This research work will deliver great benefit to mixed farmers.”

Jess was also enthusiastic about what the UWA pasture team has in the pipeline.

“Their focus on perfecting mainstream pasture species will be of  great benefit, as a lot of producers have pasture species which already grow well in their systems, but with a few tweaks they could do better with these.”
Foundation WALRC producer member Jess Horstman, Northampton.

Legumes and the UWA connection

Following the signing of the joint venture agreement between PGG Wrightson Seeds and UWA last year, the UWA plant breeding research team has brought a whole new dimension to the Annual Legume Breeding Australia (ALBA) program.

The program’s main objective is to commercialise new annual pasture legume cultivars that benefit WA farmers and to identify new traits to increase long-term pasture productivity and animal production.

“We also aim to build the capacity of our future researchers through our PhD, Masters and Honours programs,” said lead researcher Associate Professor Phil Nichols, who transferred from DPIRD to UWA as part of the program’s hand-over.

The team’s current research effort is focused on new varieties of subterranean, balansa, persian, arrowleaf and purple clovers.

In presenting the update to WALRC this month, Phil said that selecting the most appropriate annual legume variety for a given environment is a compromise, as the variety needs to flower late enough to optimise biomass production but early enough to allow seed-set before onset of summer.

“As a consequence, we are aiming to select cultivators suited to the full range of rainfall environments:
  • Early flowering varieties for low rainfall areas
  • Midseason varieties for medium rainfall areas; and
  • Late flowering varieties for high rainfall areas
To view the presentation delivered to the WALRC team by Phil Nichols on the legume breeding work, please click here.  And, for a list of all the current UWA pasture projects, click here.

How’s your oestrogenic clovers?

High-oestrogenic sub-clovers in today’s pastures in southern Australia are still causing loss of reproductive potential in the sheep meat and wool industry and according to UWA’s Kevin Foster, there is significant potential to improve this outcome through renovation.

Kevin maintains that by renovating high-oestrogen pastures, the result will be more lambs born per ewe, less mortality and a lengthening of the ewe’s reproductive life.

But the key to this lies in producers being able to identify the clover “villains”.
In response to this growing awareness, UWA has re-opened its Isoflavone testing laboratory and is offering free leaf sample test-kits again this season along with a fact sheet and clover ID guide to interested producers.

According to Kevin, the magnitude of the problem varies with sub-clover pasture composition and oestrogenicity and a low or even medium drop in ewe fertility can be difficult for a producer to detect and attribute to high oestrogenic cloves without the testing the green leaves.

“And, what is little understood is that if high-oestrogenic clovers have been conserved as hay which has been quickly dried, or well-made silage, its potency can be maintained over many years.”

UWA is currently collaborating with DPIRD to develop a ‘Ute Guide’ to assist producers to identify and detect clover varieties that have high oestrogen levels.

“Learning about this work I have requested the kit so we can test our Dalkeith clover-based pastures for oestrogenic levels due to other clovers already present,” said WALRC’s Jess Horstman.

Producers wanting to access a test kit can do so by emailing kevin.foster@uwa.edu.au

Tell WALRC what you think about this:

WALRC is particularly keen to hear if there are cattle producers suspecting an impact from highly oestrogenic cultivars (such as cv. Yarloop) as to date most of the work has been done testing the sheep response.  Please hit ‘reply’ to this newsletter and share with us your thoughts.

Last chance to submit your Producer Demonstration Site applications

Applications close this Friday, August 30 to submit for the latest round of Producer Demonstration Site (PDS) funding. Part of WALRC’s remit is to help interested producers or research groups shape up their applications to ensure they are reflecting current priority categories. For application forms, guidelines and terms of reference, please go to https://www.mla.com.au/extension-training-and-tools/producer-demonstration-sites/

Those pesky surveys -  are worth it!

Thanks to the  WALRC readers who responded to CSIRO researcher Dean Thomas’s call for stubble samples. Dean presented the survey findings to WALRC this month, which will be a critical foundation to the next phase of the work, which is a joint MLA, AWI and CSIRO collaboration.

The survey provided important information on the cycles of grazing on mixed farms during each season, with the stubbles making up about 20% of the feed for sheep each year. Results suggested that management of chaff from harvesters varied widely, with about half of the respondents spreading chaff out the back, a third were aggregating chaff in lines or piles and a small number were directly baling the chaff. 

With the next phase of work CSIRO and its project partners are looking to better understand some of the drivers of stubble quality on the grazing value of stubbles.

“For example it will be good to understand the effects of soft and hard growing season finishes on feed quality and how header chaff is managed,” Dean said.

 “We will also be investigating how sheep select certain components of stubbles and chaff, which will improve our ability to predict the edible fraction of stubbles and their overall feeding value.

“By doing this we will start to provide the agricultural industry with the much-needed numbers on the value of the millions of tonnes of chaff that are harvested each year.”

To view the two presentations from CSIRO at the WALRC meeting, one on stubbles and the other on Anameka shrubs, click here and here

So now you know that contributing to surveys really does help researchers shape their work and make it relevant to you, for cattle producers reading this newsletter, please take a minute to take the Pink Eye survey.

Mac Kneipp, a practicing vet from Goondiwindi, is doing a PhD on Pink Eye in cattle through Sydney Uni with MLA support. Mac is passionate about the disease because he reckons after 35 years of practicing vet, that pinkeye on farm has not improved at all. He wants to improve outcomes for cattle with this horrible disease.

The last decent survey on pinkeye was published in 1982.  Please take just a few minutes to go to https://bit.ly/pinkeye-survey  Cattle producers across the country will benefit from this work. 

Latest on Johnes testing

WALRC producer member Matt Camarri asked recently about where we have got to with cost-effective testing of Johnes disease in beef herds.  We figured if Matt was asking others might be too.

The most recent report on this status was published for MLA in June this year. Download some good reading at: https://www.mla.com.au/research-and-development/search-rd-reports/final-report-details/Development-and-evaluation-of-approaches-for-cost-effective-testing-of-beef-herds-for-Johnes-disease/4131

Meanwhile, the research updates presented by Murdoch and DPIRD will be summarised in our September newsletter. Stay tuned! 
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