Edenvale. Temora. NSW 2666
In 1991, we challenged the myth that cocksfoot would not persist north of Wagga and west of Cootamundra. Our property is family owned, comprising approximately 700 ha (1550 acres). Our soil types range from red box to very light sandy loam through to raw iron bark ridges. Our soil has a pH of 4.5 and above in the loam with aluminium up to 11%. We are located 15 km east of Temora, one km south of Combaning wheat silos.
We run 700-780 Merino ewes in a self-replacing flock, keeping our wethers through until fourteen months to sell. Our sheep are of Pooginook blood. We crop 160 to 200 ha each year.
In 1980 we started to look around for a grass to supplement our clover-based pasture because we found that during the summer and autumn months our country was tending to bare off too much leaving the soil very susceptible to wind and water erosion and poor water retention from summer and autumn storms.
All the advice we could obtain told us that we were wasting our time and money sowing cocksfoot.
We sowed our first paddock of 23 ha (50 acres) in the winter of 1981 with a seeding rate of 1kg/ha Currie cocksfoot, 3 kg/ha subclover.
When we went into the 1982 drought the "knockers" were saying that there was no way it would persist and that by the end of the drought it would all be dead.
How wrong they were. We came out of the drought in March 1983 very pleasantly surprised to see that conservatively 80% of the cocksfoot plants were alive and going very well.
Our pastures now are based on a clover/lucerne/ cocksfoot mixture. Prior to our starting to put lime out in 1985, we could not get lucerne established but that immediately changed with followup lime application. A typical pasture mix now is:
1.5 kg/ha lucerne
4.5 kg/ha clover
0.3-0.5kg/ha cocksfoot (Currie or Porto)
Success in pasture establishment can be attributed to:
1. correct seed placement
2. lime application
3. earth mite control
4. reduced sowing rate of the cover crop
We reduced our sowing rate of the cocksfoot from 1 kg/ha to 0.3-0.5 kg/ha because we found that the cocksfoot was totally dominating the pasture after a couple of years and we were losing our lucerne. The clover did not grow well because of too much competition.
Some of the disadvantages of cocksfoot are:
1. sheep do not seem to eat it when it has been baled for hay;
2. breaking tuft down for cropping. Some may see this as a problem but usually one harrow- ing when dry breaks it down;
3. dry bulk from seeding from exceptional spring has to be slashed last year.
Some of the main advantages as we see them are:
1. seems to keep barley grass and silver grass out of the pasture for a greater time - up to six years before a problem;
2. reduced chemical costs in spraytopping, etc;
3. virtually no contamination in wool from small seed, e.g. barley grass and silvergrass;
4. minimal eye contamination in sheep;
5. young sheep seem to graze first on the cocksfoot and laterals on the lucerne before eating clover;
6. sheep seem to fatten very quickly on a pasture with cocksfoot in it;
7. wind and water erosion are virtually eradicated because of the tuft nature which holds the soil together and retains the water when heavier runoff rains occur.
It is our policy not to have a fixed cropping and pasture rotation. It is our belief that if a particular paddock is a good pasture paddock we do not crop it after "x" amount of years, regardless. Some pasture paddocks have gone up to nine years before we have cropped them. It was only in the sixth year that we had to spraytop because of barley and silvergrass problems. Even at the ninth year, the cocksfoot
was just as good as it was in the first and second years. It is policy to topdress all uncropped country with 125 kg/ha of superphosphate per year.
A typical crop program is:
Year 1 Canola or oats for hay
Year 2 Wheat
Year 3 Oats for hay or canola
Year 4 Wheat or oats for hay
Year 5 Barley and undersown pasture
We do not have disease problems in our crops to any greater degree, because of the cocksfoot, than our neighbours who have not got much cocksfoot.
Our carrying capacity has considerably lifted since we started with cocksfoot and our dry time feeding has reduced because there always seems to be a good bulk in the cocksfoot. When the rain does come, cocksfoot is always the first green feed we have. We place equal importance on cocksfoot in a pasture as we do in lucerne.
It still bewilders me as to why the Department and some of the extension officers have been slow to start to look at cocksfoot and phalaris in pastures. The evidence has been there to see on more properties than ours, but it is still claimed that north of Wagga and west of Cootamundra these perennial grasses will not persist. I would go so far as to say that cocksfoot will persist wherever lucerne can be grown.