OLD MAN SALTBUSH
JIM McLAUGHLIN “MERRYANBONE NORTH” WARREN.
“ Merryanbone North: mixed black and red soil between Nyngan and Warren on the Duck and Gunningbar Creeks. Principal enterprises include Merino sheep, beef cattle and winter cropping (wheat and oats). Average annual rainfall is around 425mm (17 inches).
Saltbush history: Began planting Old Man Saltbush in 1998 after attending a field day at Robert Webb’s property “Dappo” at Narromine in 1997. I saw the mass of feed the saltbush was providing, which convinced me the cost of establishing saltbush was worthwhile.
Over the following four years there has been 270 hectares (670 acres) of saltbush planted on “Merryanbone North” on both black and red soils, some of which was quite denuded.
Comments: I have been pleased with the way the saltbush has grown and performed from the beginning, but over the past two years it has proven to be nothing short of phenomenal.
Following the November 2000 flood “Merryanbone North” has had less than a third of its average annual rainfall. Despite this, the saltbush has not only survived, but grown. Its deep roots have tapped into soil moisture unobtainable to other grasses and crops.
For the past 12 months the saltbush has been the only green leaf on “Merryanbone North”.
In a “normal” season it is expected saltbush would increase the carrying capacity on “Merryanbone North” six to eight fold from 0.5 DSE/acre to 3-4 DSE. In a drought year, such as the one we have just had, this increase in carrying capacity would be many times greater.
Both sheep and cattle have benefited from saltbush on “Merryanbone North”. Cows and calves, weaner and yearling cattle have all grazed it, as well as dry sheep, lambing ewes and weaner sheep.
Proof of the value of saltbush as a feed option, was evident with the Merryanbone North ewes, which achieved good lambing percentages (@95pc), despite the drought, when grazed on the plant.
Conclusion: I believe we are still learning about saltbush, and how best to manage it to suit our conditions.
We will continue to plant saltbush when the season improves, with the aim of doubling the existing area over the next five years.
I am not worried about future droughts after seeing how saltbush has survived and performed on “Merryanbone North” over the past two extremely dry years. It is perfectly suited to our climate, which history has shown is often either flood or drought, and continues to produce when nothing else will.
Kangaroos, no matter how hungry they are, will not eat saltbush, meaning they do not compete with sheep and cattle for the feed value.
I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is the best investment a grazier in this part of the world can make.
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