Farmers feeding their livestock on prunings from willows and poplars in dry summers can almost halve the financial loss caused by drought.
Cost-benefit analyses were undertaken as part of a project mostly funded by MAF’s Sustainable Farming Fund, which looked at using prunings from these trees as supplementary fodder during summer when pastures are poorer.
Willows and poplars are already valuable for preventing soil erosion and shade and shelter.
Animal production and performance measurements were used from Massey University feeding trials at Riverside Farm, near Masterton. Ewes on drought pasture were fed poplar and willow foliage during summer.
The Greater Wellington Regional Council’s Masterton-based regional land management officer, Dave Cameron, also worked with others to develop a computer model farm of Wairarapa hill country.
Results from these trials have shown that the cost of doing nothing in a drought gives a loss of $14 per ewe.
However, feeding tree fodder at 0.75 kg of fresh matter per ewe (0.25 kg dry matter) daily, over a 40-day period during February-March increased farm income by about $6.50 per ewe, and this reduced the loss during a drought to $7.50 per ewe.
The Massey research over the past three years has shown that feeding willow and poplar foliage to ewes on drought pasture during mating can also help to sustain lambing percentages.
This drought management option is already available to farmers with tree fodder available on their properties, says Cameron.