Last update: April 11, 2012 03:48:09 PM E-mail Print


Lucerne for Pasturage

HW Turpin


A FEW years ago, the use of lucerne for pasture purposes as a general practice would have been condemned. Changed economic conditions, particularly in regard to profits derived from the sale of lucerne hay have however, largely altered the outlook. The need for reduction in the cost of production of lucerne, if this excellent feed is to be produced economically, becomes more and more apparent with the decreasing price for hay.

In order to reduce, it is desirable that the chief items involved in cost of production be kept in mind. These may be stated briefly as being interest charges, including water rates and cost of establishing, production and maintenance, and harvesting and marketing costs (if for sale).

The two first-named can hardly be reduced, unless we are to write down capital charges for land (poor consolation for the irrigator who is paying interest on the sum invested), so that we are left with the last item, namely, harvesting costs, as those on which economies may be effected.

A critical analysis of lucerne costs will show the following distribution:

(a)  Interest on land (£12. 10s. per acre), water rates (20s. per acre), and interest on cost of establishing (£3. 10s. per acre), items amounting to approximately 39s. per acre;

(b)  production and maintenance, including irrigation, repairs to arid upkeep

(c)   marketing, including baling and of beds and furrows, and cultivation, amounting to about 30s. per acre;

(d)   harvesting and stacking, i.e., mowing, raking, cocking and stacking, which costs some 58s. per acre; and transporting, costing approximately 66s. per acre.


If these items be converted to costs per ton, based on a yield of 6 tons per acre (any reasonable yield may be taken), then they will be about (a) 6s. 6d., (b) 5s., (c) 9s. 3d., and (d) 11s., a total of about 32s.

If harvesting and marketing costs be eliminated, it means that the cost of lucerne as it stands in the land ready for use will be some 11s. or 12s., instead of 21s. in the stack or 32s. at the railhead (when sold). These figures are so striking that they justify every effort being made to utilize lucerne on the land for pasturage, as such a method of utilization will eliminate half the charges entailed in producing hay, and it may be contended that the cost of removal of hay from the stack to the racks for feeding purposes will approximate that of driving the animals on to the lucerne pasture, and other charges connected with the latter, such as interest on fences for paddocking.

The saving of some 10s. per ton in the cost of lucerne for feed is generally admitted to be a considerable item, which in itself may mean the difference between profit and loss. In how far the general use of lucerne for pasturage can be adopted is difficult at the moment to say, but that it is a policy that should be recommended wherever possible is without question.

An article in Farming in South Africa (No. 74, pp. 59-60, May, 1932) is of interest in this connection, in that it furnishes evidence that a well-conceived system of lucerne pasturage will not materially affect the yield. Any reduction in comparison with hay will be offset by the fact that in the haymaking process there are always losses, particularly in the leaf, which is the most valuable part of the hay. Apart from this, there is often the danger of the total loss of a cutting through unfavourable weather at the time of haymaking.

The popularity of this crop for ostrich pastures during the feather boom is ample evidence of its value for grazing purposes where there is no danger of stock being adversely affected. With ruminants, the great deterrent is the likelihood of hoven, but this is a difficulty that may not be insurmountable, and experimental work now under way at Grootfontein on the grazing capacity of lucerne throws some light on this topic, making it possible to state from experience that judicious grazing of lucerne, where possible, is to be strongly recommended as a means to the reduction in the feed bill (approximately 2s. 6d. per cow per month), and as a source of summer succulence of high quality. In addition, savings would be effected where lucerne is grazed rather than fed as hay, for in the latter case some succulent would be necessary. The experiments at Grootfontein referred to have shown, over nearly two seasons, that lucerne, it properly grazed, has a carrying capacity of 20 sheep per acre in the summer, and four in the winter, and steps are now being taken to harvest one-third for hay in the summer to see whether by this means the carrying capacity cannot be maintained constant or nearly so. During the coming summer, it is proposed to attempt to utilize lucerne grazing for milk production. So far, no cases of hoven have occurred with the sheep in the experimental grazing; what the position will be with dairy cows is not yet known, although in preliminary grazing trials no serious cases of hoven were experienced. It is, however, earnestly hoped that the condition whereby lucerne can be grazed satisfactorily will before long be discovered, since its milk-producing value is undoubted.



Farming in South Africa 7