Beef finishing on legumes: Part 2

Southland couple Matt and Shona Tayler are pushing boundaries by finishing cattle on lucerne and legume-based pastures. In the second of a two-part series, the Taylers outline their bloat mitigation strategies.
Monday, 14 October 2019

Utilising prior knowledge of effective bloat management has worked well to a point, but the Taylers are building an even greater awareness of risk factors and prevention strategies. The Innovation Farm steering group also recognized that management practices the Taylers’ implemented to prevent bloat needed to be applied at scale with limited labour.

Bloat capsules are being used, but Matt says these are not a long-term option as processors were signaling that they would like to see them phased out. They have also used Bloatenz dispensed through water troughs and have tried mowing strips of lucerne, as the wilted lucerne does provide some fibre, but with limited success. Giving calves ad-lib access to flaxseed oil when the bloat risk is high has worked, as the calves are good at self-medicating.

The couple have also noted a correlation between bloat and air temperature; as the temperature drops, feed intake increases so does the risk of bloat.

They have trialled different grazing management strategies with varying degrees of success. Lucerne with new shoots emerging on harder, less palatable stems proved to be an unforeseen risk as cattle stripped the new shoots from the stems by wrapping their tongues around and pulling. While the diet on offer appeared to have plentiful fibre, the actual feed ingested was very low in fibre.

The Taylers say they have learned to judge the fraction of lucerne that is likely to be ingested and have changed their perception of what is risky and what is not.

Matt says counter-intuitively, shorter, lusher lucerne (i.e. shorter grazing rotations) is less risky than stalky mature lucerne.

However, the Taylers believe the most effective bloat mitigation starts with selecting the right breed, sex and particularly age of cattle – Friesian bulls up to one year old are at less risk than older animals.

Matt says farmers wanting to incorporate cattle on legume pastures need to be prepared to adjust their stock policy to minimize risk and maximise potential gains.

While lucerne is the principle legume in their intensive finishing platform, they are using a range of legumes within their wider operation and are including less risky legumes in their on-going development programme.

Subterranean clover is being oversown on their uncultivated tussock country, while red and white clover provides the basis of the pasture on easier country.

“The selection of legume takes priority over the companion grass and is dependent on soil type,” says Matt.

Matt and Shona are also trying mixes such as plantain, fescue, cocksfoot and tetraploid grasses at various sowing rates and looking at companion species such as sainfoin, sulla and lotus. These legume options are being included for their high tannin content in an effort to minimise acute bloat issues while retaining quality and performance.