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Keywords:

  • Festuca arundinacea;
  • sheep grazing;
  • drought;
  • heat tolerance;
  • grazing management;
  • perennial forage;
  • Australia

Abstract

Tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb.) is currently seldom used in the high-rainfall (>600 mm) zone of south-eastern Australia. To determine its potential to improve forage availability during the summer-autumn feed-deficit period, a field plot-scale experiment with sheep evaluated a Continental cultivar of tall fescue (cv. Quantum) at Hamilton, Victoria, between September 2006 and January 2009. Four grazing treatments represented set stocking or rotational grazing at the two-, three- or four-leaf stage, in a completely randomized design with three replications. Grazing treatment effects on tall fescue tiller population dynamics, forage accumulation rates and consumption, sward nutritive value and botanical composition were measured. Results showed tall fescue can persist and support year-round grazing by sheep, subject to water availability for summer growth from summer rain or on moisture retentive heavy soils. During the summer-autumn (December–April) vegetative phase, grazing at the three-leaf stage optimized forage consumption, with no difference in feed value or botanical composition between the grazing treatments during these months. During the reproductive phase (September–November), feed value was highest under set stocking and declined with the production of each successive leaf. Grazing at the three- or four-leaf stage prevented winter weed invasion, but winter forage consumption was low in these treatments. Set stocking or grazing at the two-leaf stage improved winter forage consumption rates, but these swards were invaded by winter growing weeds.