Once considered a weed, field trials reveal plantain is a high-protein alternative to pasture ideal for finishing lambs.
Ballance Agri-Nutrients Technical Extension Officer Murray Lane says the herb delivered solid results in a field trial conducted by Massey University, nearly doubling live weight gain in some cases compared to pasture alone.
Murray says a plantain crop provides high dry matter yields, with high levels of protein and energy.
"Also of benefit is the lack of any growth-limiting endophyte toxins found in older ryegrass pastures and the fact that with plantain facial eczema is less of a risk, as less plant residue is left after grazing."
Ballance is one of the participants in a Beef and Lamb project to evaluate the use of plantain in lamb fattening programmes on hill country.
Professor Peter Kemp, from Massey University, is investigating grazing strategies using plantain, to see how much weight gain can reasonably be expected in lambs, and how that compares to gains made on other feeds, such a ryegrass pasture and a chicory mix.
At a recent field-day, Professor Kemp presented the results of a 12-month trial that ran from June 2011 to May 2012. The results revealed that a plantain mix with red and white clover produced more than 700kg lamb carcase weight over the 12-month trial, 179 per cent of that achieved by using pasture alone.
The plantain species used in this work was Tonic - a sophisticated, upright, well-bred version of the 'roadside weed' that many farmers will be familiar with. In winter, Tonic grows as much dry matter (DM) as ryegrass does, but it also grows extremely well over the summer months.