Barley ticks the box as a crop between permanent pastures and as a home-grown source of supplementary feed.
Brothers Mark and Sam Zino, Hawarden, North Canterbury, moved to a policy of growing between 15 and 20 hectares of autumn-sown barley for grain, 10 years ago.
“It works out about $100 a tonne to grow, and if we don’t need to feed it, we can store it,” Mark said.
This doesn’t count the opportunity costs of the paddock but it usually needs replacing with a crop anyway. Each year 50 to 70t are grown and stored and the residue provides a handy source of straw for cattle.
“And feeding barley from a ute is cheaper than running a tractor with silage.”
The 1100ha Hawarden farm had a trying summer and autumn, with very dry conditions over tupping for ewes. The 3350 Longdown ewes were all supplementary fed barley during tupping, with the aim of maintaining condition. Barley is only used when ewe condition is under threat due to dry conditions, Mark said.
“I don’t need a real flush as I will get too many triplets, so I aim for maintenance.”
Mobs are condition scored and fed appropriately during the six week lead up to tupping. Lighter ewes are fed 400 grams/day (g/d), average ewes are 200g/d and heavy ewes only 100g/d. Once tupping starts the grain is fed at 200g/d except for the heavy ewes at 100g/d.
“There is no point in overfeeding well-conditioned ewes over tupping with our genetics.”
“Often drought feeding results in overfeeding ewes at tupping which has the unwanted effect of too many triplets.”
The Flaxmere ewe flock will scan 200% typically so the goal is maintaining bodyweight through tupping and through winter, until spring pastures coincide with peak lactation.
During tupping this year, the ewes were rotated around the heavy clay soils and paddocks identified for pasture renewal. Ewes were fed 200g/d of barley and meadow hay mixed with lucerne balage for bulk.
“There really wasn’t much to eat in the pasture so, for the first time in a long time, we had to feed hay and balage with the grain.”
“Some may say 200 grams is high but the ewes know it, and we’ve never had losses, in fact we rarely lose ewes over tupping using grain, it gives the ewes so much energy.”
This autumn, grain feeding was scheduled for late afternoon, after lockdown home schooling finished for the teenagers.
“Ewes got a few hours down the roadside in the morning and I did other jobs, then the boys and I fed out late afternoon.”
Barley is fed from the grain hopper towed behind the ute. The tractor feeds the hay/balage mix first, to get the ewes out of the way, and then the ute has a clear run.
The shy-feeding ewes tend to be last to the grain so Mark aims to feed them last, and slows the truck speed down so more grain goes out to them.
If the weather stays dry but cold, barley will be fed. If it goes wet and cold, silage will be fed while it is muddy underfoot.
“This is such a different season for us, we are normally all grass, but the drought has changed us into feeding more saved supplement.
“Barley is ideal for us – it’s cheap to grow and suits our feeding requirements at critical times.”
As ewes are only fed grain as “an emergency”, the two-tooths are sometimes unfamiliar with it and have to be trained. To do this, Mark holds them against a fenceline with a dog and spreads barley up and down in front of the mob. Most of them notice it when they walk over it.
“About a third stop and sniff it and by the second week about half have figured it out and we can feed one hundred grams a head.”
“Restricting other feed can get them interested too.”
Feeding barley will continue until Mark is confident that growth has recovered and got ahead of stock. He aims for pasture covers on lambing blocks to hit 1100 to 1500kg drymatter mid-August. Any lighter ewes that are not coping are pulled out at shearing in early May, then again at scanning, and preferentially fed.
Putting stock on fast-growing short grass or lucerne immediately after rain can create nitrate poisoning issues. Feeding grain can help give pastures, including sub clover or crops, time to build covers, using up the nitrogen flush before introducing stock.
Grain is fed every year to deer. The mob of 300 velvet stags and 600 hinds with fawns are fed barley each autumn. This trains the weaners as barley is used every season to get top weaner growth between February 10 and May 20.
“They are great converters of grain to meat so it’s really cost effective to feed. The grain helps move the lighter animals up into the September-October premiums when sold prime.”
This autumn, beef calves and cows were lightly stocked over the hills while Italian ryegrass grew on the irrigated flats for the calves at weaning. Calves are wintered on fodder beet crops with hay and lucerne balage.
When the Amuri Irrigation Company’s Hurunui South scheme is completed almost 40% of the farm will be irrigated. The irrigated area is hugely important to the dryland operation, Mark said.
“It actually helps us protect our soils, grow much more food and sustain our livelihood.
“The ignorance about the benefits of irrigation to the environment, soils and the economy is so sad.
“The government should be building and paying for irrigation schemes to help farmers use it to convert water into high quality food as food is number one.
“We need to realise we are all in this together and farmers are using our country’s water for you, the consumer, to produce food.”
In times of drought and food supply disruption this is even more apparent.