Forage Testing

Newsletter No. 59 -  Item 3 & 4

This section of the newsletter discussed the importance of testing the forage fed to production livestock to ensure the nutritional profile of the batch is accurate to enable the nutritionist to balance the rations accurately.

Forage Testing
Forage testing is normal practice in production livestock farming.   A forage test supplies essential information about the nutritive value of the forage portion of the rataion.  It can be fed as hay, haylage or silage. Hay is the optimum medium for ostrich.  It is essential to ensure the rest of the feed provide balanced rations capable of supporting the production group.  Dairy genetics have improved dramatically over the years and feeding the forage and other ingredients as a complete feed is becoming the norm, to enable accurate intake of sufficient nutrients to support high levels of production without the metabolic problems long associated with milk production.  Today, dairy cattle fed in this manner can be seen in grass paddocks for exercise, but they do not eat the grass as they now receive their total nutrient requirements in the feed bunker.

Some useful articles on forage testing:

Basics of Forage Testing
Collecting Forage Samples

Quality alfalfa amounts for as much as 40% of ostrich diets, so accuracy in forage analysis is essential.

Alfalfa suitable for most climates
Alfalfa/Lucerne is an important component in an ostrich ration.  Working with any other forage ingredient is always a compromise that will cost production and limit the ability to achieve the full potential of the best Ostrich genetics.  We are often told that it is not possible to grow Alfalfa in this country or that so, when a member informed us they had been told that the bug situation made it too expensive to produce alfalfa in their country, I emailed a scientist from their region who had done some trials.  The response received was very positive:

Quote:  We have studied some alfalfa cultivar under laboratory conditions and some of them exhibited high levels of resistance. End quote

He gave me an introduction to a scientist whom he believed to be more up to date with information in the region.   The response was also positive – it illustrated the management factors required, but concluded that the production of Alfalfa can be commercially viable in the region.   The comments relating to the diversity of Alfalfa as a crop adaptable to extremes of climatic conditions are of significant importance.  As with all agricultural crops and livestock – it requires high standards of management to achieve optimum production with commercially viable returns.

Quote:  Being a plant of temperate climate, alfalfa, due to its wide genetic variability, is able to adapt to differing climates and altitudes from sea level to high valleys, so that it can be cultivated in almost any part of the world. 

It has been found that regarding ambient temperature, the yellow-flowered alfalfa (Medicago falcata), for example, survived temperatures as low as minus 28C in Alaska, whereas some common varieties (Medicago sativa) were grown in Death Valley in California, USA, with temperatures up to 54C.  And, among the common varieties (M. sativa), the variety “Crioula” is the best adapted to the State of São Paulo, which is in the south east region of Brazil.

However, the most significant factor influencing the production of alfalfa in any part of the world is soil fertility, which can actually rule it out as a demanding economic crop.  The soil must have high fertility, with pH between 6.0 and 6.5. I should point out that soils in Brazil are of low to medium fertility, with pH between 4.0 and 5.0.  This must be adjusted, that is to say the soil fertility must be improved for the production of forage alfalfa by the application of appropriate elements (dolomitic lime).  As well as this, soils must be deep, of average texture (sandy-clay), be free of compaction, have good permeability, with any aquifer being deeper than 2m., and irrigation must be available.  Regarding irrigation, although it is a plant which is fairly resistant to drought, high production of forage will only be obtained with supplementary water during periods of drought stress.

Therefore, by taking account of and correcting certain requirements, as mentioned above, the commercial cultivation of alfalfa is reasonably viable in the State of São Paulo, in the south east region of Brazil. End quote

The answer therefore is that it is possible to grow alfalfa in any region or climate in the world providing the soil and management conditions are correct and in areas of high humidity there will be an additional problem of drying to overcome. To achieve commercial production of alfalfa will require ostrich producers working in collaboration with arable producers and the local scientific community to achieve commercial production of alfalfa.

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