Making lucerne worth its salt for lambs

Salt supplement increasing growth rates in lambs on dryland lucerne

Charles Sturt University (CSU) lecturer in agronomy Dr Jeff McCormick, Bachelor of Agricultural Science (Honours) student Matt Champness and CSU lecturer in whole farm management Dr Shawn McGrath.

Charles Sturt University (CSU) lecturer in agronomy Dr Jeff McCormick, Bachelor of Agricultural Science (Honours) student Matt Champness and CSU lecturer in whole farm management Dr Shawn McGrath.


Dryland lucerne found to be sodium deficient. This is how you can ensure it doesn't affect your system.


A supplement of salt could help lamb producers make better use of dryland lucerne according to research from the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation.

Charles Sturt University (CSU) lecturer in agronomy Dr Jeff McCormick said lucerne is seen to be highly productive and high quality but often liveweight gains seen by producers do not reflect that.

“Lucerne is an important pasture in Australian mixed faming systems providing high quality feed in spring and summer,” he said.

Research conducted by CSU Bachelor of Agricultural Science (Honours) student Matt Champness and supervised by Dr Jeff McCormick and Dr Shawn McGrath, identified sodium deficiency in dryland lucerne.

“Previous research in New Zealand found that lucerne was commonly low in sodium and they had seen benefit in adding salt to increase lamb liveweight,” Dr McCormick said.

“In comparison in Australia it is rare for livestock grazing lucerne to be supplemented with salt.

“Older research in Australia indicated lucerne was below what was required so the research saught out to validate that and increase liveweight gains in lambs.

Mr Champness and his supervisors conducted a survey of dryland lucerne pastures in NSW, mainly around the Riverina, and some parts of Victoria and South Australia, and only found one pasture that had sufficient sodium concentration levels. The rest were all below critical value.

“Our research found that 96 per cent of the dryland lucerne samples from southern Australia had sodium concentrations below the levels needed for growing lambs,” Mr Champness said.

The research also examined the impact of giving lambs grazing dryland lucerne a supplement of salt.

First-cross lambs were fed for 27 days on lucerne pasture with an ad-lib supply of salt as part of Mr Champness’ research, which showed a supplement of salt could boost the growth of lambs grazing these pastures.

“A grazing experiment carried out during August and September 2018 found that providing salt to lambs grazing lucerne increased live weight growth of the lambs by 14 per cent. Given that salt is a relatively cheap supplement this resulted in a big return on investment,” Mr Champness said.

“We identified that the lambs would consume about 20 grams per head per day of salt, and if the salt was worth $9 per 25 kilogram bag, it is a very cheap supplement to gain extra growth and profit,” Dr McCormick said.

Dr McGrath said it is a very simple approach to rectify the mineral deficiency.

“Providing lambs free access to salt when grazing lucerne pastures can improve productivity,” Dr McGrath said.

Matt Champness is a champion in agriculture

Promoting Australian food and fibre production is close to the heart of the 2018 Charles Sturt University (CSU) graduate and Agricultural Science medalist Matt Champness.

From Hamilton, Victoria, Mr Champness is the co-founder of ‘This is Aus Ag’, a grassroots initiaitive that aims to build trust between consumers and farmers by sharing stories through podcasts and social media.

He said the project came from his participation in the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) 2030 Leadership Program.

“Agriculture is quite vulnerable to social licence issues and I think if we can build trust people will understand that their food is safe and why we undertake certain practices to ensure we can continue to feed Australians and meet overseas markets,” said Mr Champness.

“It’s a great time to be in agriculture, there’s a big focus on young people in agriculture, there is a lot of new technologies which is exciting, and although we are going through a tough season in the eastern states commodity prices are pretty good.”

“The NFF has a target of growing Australian Farm gate output to $100 billion by 2030 and it makes you think what can I do to help our industry get there.”

Mr Champness’ enthusiasm for primary production is evident in the impressive list of scholarship, training and leaderhsip programs he’s undertaken during his four years of study at CSU.

He attended the 2018 Crawford Fund Conference, took part in an exchange program to Texas Tech University in the United States, Syngenta connections Vietnam program, participated in the Agrihack and AWI tech eChallenge, was awarded an AgriFutres Australia Horizon Scholarship and is an Australian Rural Leadership Foundation graduate.

“It’s really important to get out there and meet with people in the industry to stay up-to-date and have a good understanding of what’s happening now and where we are headed in the future,” Mr Champness said.

Mr Champness graduated on Monday and was awarded the Agricultural Science Medal. Over the next 12 months he plans to volunteer in Lao PDR as a weeds agronomist in rice, part of a project to improve weed management in rice production to boost agricultural capacity in the developing country. This project is supported by the Crawford Fund and Australian Volunteers Program.


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