Adecade of research on native forage shrubs by the University of Western Australia (UWA) has found a multitude of benefits, suggesting native shrubs could be the new superfeed for livestock.
Professor Philip Vercoe from UWA's Institute of Agriculture and School of Agriculture and Environment said research with native shrubs planted on a 1600ha UWA farm had shown improvements to both productivity and natural resource management, and he believed there was much more to be discovered and measured.
The benefits included the availability of green nutritious plants in autumn, using areas not suitable for crops, drought-resistance and drought-responsive strategies, shade and shelter, biodiversity, and carbon storage.
One of the key results from the research was that sheep grazing on a mix of native shrubs in summer and autumn could achieve good weight gains and minimise the need for hand feeding.
"We have also found that grazing on these shrubs can reduce methane emissions intensity by about 25 per cent during this autumn period," Vercoe said.
"This is exciting because it is evidence that shrubs can help achieve increases in weight gain and improve profitability as well as reduce the environmental impact of livestock industries — an important finding as we move towards making the red meat industry carbon neutral by 2030."
Vercoe said there was evidence lamb survival from twin bearing ewes was 15 to 20 per cent higher when lambing took place in the native shrub paddock.
"Shelter alone can improve lamb survival, but we think a number of other factors influence what we have observed," he said.
"For example, the extra nutritional value of the shrubs, and impacts to the mother-young behaviour are likely to influence lamb survival, which we intend to explore in future research.
"In addition, grazing shrubs has the potential to combat gastrointestinal worms, which we intend to measure in animals in the field."
These research projects have been conducted in collaboration with the Commonwealth Scientific Industry Research Organisation, the South Australian Research and Development Institute, Meat and Livestock Australia, the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development and UWA, with support from the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.