An evaluation of irrigated ryegrass/clover pastures for fat lamb production in the Highland Sourveld of Natal.
The primary objective of this study was to increase net farm income in the Highland Sourveld of Natal by developing pasture based fat lamb production systems. Secondary objectives included (a) determination of the most suitable pasture species or species mixture; (b) determination of the optimum level of N fertilization; (c) establishment of biological and economic optimum stocking rates; (d) projection of expected profit and (e) verification of proposals on a farm scale. Midmar Italian ryegrass was compared to selected legumes alone, and in mixtures with ryegrass in a small plot trial conducted over two years at a 3- and 6-week harvesting frequency under irrigation. Ryegrass in combination with red and white clover provided the highest yields for both harvesting intervals in both years. When this pasture was subsequently compared to ryegrass alone under grazing, no significant difference could be detected in lamb gains at 20 and 28 ewe-lamb units/ha, but at 36 ewe-lamb units/ha the lambs on ryegrass started losing weight at 30 kg, while those on ryegrass + clover continued to gain until a market weight of 40 kg was achieved. In a small plot trial little response was detected to added N above 175 kg N/ha on ryegrass + clover, and under grazing, no significant difference was observed between 275; 375 and 4,75 kg N/ha over two single year periods. Relationships between average daily gain (ADG) and stocking rate, ADG and disc meter height, and stocking rate and disc meter height were mostly well described by linear functions. Expected pre-weaning AOG was 150 g higher (p ≤ 0,01) than post-weaning ADG (100 g) in the first year, and a similar difference was observed in the second year. For the period common to all stocking rates an average maximum gain/ha of 824 kg was achieved at a stocking rate of 33,5 lambs/ha and a disc meter height of 4,5 cm. By lambing in April, lambs could be marketed in September at 40 kg and more weaned lambs could be grazed on the pasture and marketed in December, leading to an expected gain/ha of 1400 to 2200 kg, and expected profit/ha of R 1254 to R 2771, depending on stocking rate. When evaluated under farm conditions, this system produced 2060 kg live weight/ha and a profit of R 3206/ha. It is concluded from the present study that the fat lamb production system based on irrigated ryegrass + clover pastures can be recommended with confidence to farmers in the Highland Sourveld of Natal.