INVESTING in Anameka saltbush is providing options for the Richards family who run a mixed farming enterprise at Quairading.
Robyn and Greg Richards, who farm 5000 hectares with their son Haydyn, his wife Jess and two young children, said there were plenty of upsides to putting hectares of their land to Anameka.
Robyn first heard about Anameka at the local CRC about four years ago and immediately realised there were potential benefits there.
“People from the Eastern States had come over to promote it,” Robyn said.
“They were talking about the amount of protein in the plant and the fact that sheep prefer to eat the Anameka over the Old Man saltbush which got me interested.”
Robyn went home and told her husband about what she had heard and soon after the family proceeded to invest in thousands of Anameka seedlings.
“We’ve got salt country that was just sitting there not doing anything so we decided to try it out and see if we could bring our unproductive land back into production,” she said.
“And there’s the added benefit of having another source of feed for the sheep when other feed is low.”
So the Richards family has been planting Anameka for the past three years and now has 9000 plants in the ground with a plan to plant more in the future.
“We’ve had other types of saltbush for years which seem to just appear naturally,” Greg said.
“If we’re being realistic we’d have to say we have about 1000 hectares of salt country which is too much and the first choice would be reclaiming it to good land which would be a battle.
“I don’t know if there is a cure to salt land but by utilising the salt land by putting it to Anameka that will also benefit our sheep, it is the next best option we have.”
More than 4000 Merino ewes are running on the property which are mated to Poll Dorsets, Suffolks and a few SAMMs.
Greg said they haven’t done the figures on weight gain by weighing the sheep on and off the country planted to Anameka, but just by eye- balling it, he said the sheep seemed to like it.
“The paddocks that they are in at the moment with the Anameka you can see the bushes have been really heavily grazed,” he said.
“So it seems like a good option for confinement feeding in the autumn while you let pasture paddocks get away.”
The Richards family already defers grazing of their pastures by crop grazing but the Anameka provides another grazing option during that feed gap window.
“One of the things we’re thinking about at the moment is putting in a 20ha paddock of Anameka which could probably handle quite a reasonable sized mob of sheep in there,” Greg said.
“We are seriously thinking about putting Anameka to better country because the sheep can get so much protein out of it.”
In terms of looking at which parts of the better country on the property to lock up with the Anameka shrubs, Greg said it would be a matter of thinking about where it would be most useful.
“We’ve looked at putting it around the shearing shed as a feed and shelter option in a holding paddock,” he said.
“Creek lines and laneways are other options for it but a 20ha paddock of the stuff is definitely on the cards for us.”
Greg said the primary use of that paddock would be for fattening lambs and supplementary feed in the autumn gap or potentially even for lambing.
When asked if they would recommend trying Anameka to their neighbours, Robyn said they would.
“The sheep seem to do really well on the Anameka so yes, I think so,” she said.
“We’ve also got some other trial plots of different types of fodder bushes which the CSIRO were using for methane gas trials but there was no Anameka involved with that,’’ she said.
“The sheep don’t seem to like those as much because when they are in that paddock they don’t seem to graze it down as much as they do with the Anameka.”
Having that opportunity to see what works for the sheep on their property makes getting involved with research trials worthwhile.
“The good thing that we found as well was that with Anameka you can put the sheep in pretty quickly,” Robyn said.
“So long as they can’t pull it out, they’re good to go which is generally somewhere between 12 and 18 months from planting as tubestock.
“We haven’t had many failed plantings of Anameka so they seem to be pretty robust plants.”
Managing the grazing of the shrubs is relatively easy because it just comes down to monitoring the level of feed on the plants.
“The book says not to let them get down to completely bare branches so we just keep an eye on them and take them out when we need to,” Greg said.
With livestock making up a third of the enterprise, the operation of the flock and feed needs to be as simple as possible.
“You can make them as hard or difficult to run as you want to,” Robyn said.
“As long as you’ve got the good infrastructure, it’s easy to keep it simple.
“That’s another good reason to have Anameka within our system because it’s so low maintenance – you just whack it in the ground and off it goes.
“We don’t need to fertilise it or spray it so it’s a low maintenance, high protein feed source which recovers from grazing quickly.”
Robyn said the only detractor is the need to have a fence around the shrubs when they’re very young to let them establish.
“You need to be able to keep stock out of them for at least a year once they’ve been planted so if that means you need to put in a fence, then that’s not great but it’s a long-term investment that pays off,” she said.
“But after that initial period it’s pretty tough stuff and it needs to be, given where we plant it.
“It bounces back within a couple of weeks after being grazed fairly heavily so it’s a very useful plant to have in our system.”
Greg said so long as the spring was kind they could start selling lambs in August.
“But if it isn’t kind, they need to be held somewhere and that’s where the Anameka can come in,” he said.
Robyn said they took a bit of a gamble dropping their lambs earlier in April.
“That’s so we can turn them off earlier,’’ she said.
“This year it didn’t play out perfectly but you can’t do much about that.
“In the long run it’s generally worked well for us to lamb early because we can get them up before the spring glut.”
Most of the lambs are sold off the Richards property into the domestic market, heading to WAMMCO as 20 kilogram carcases, though some have gone to graziers and air freight markets.
Though the family doesn’t specifically target the live export market, Greg has his concerns as to how a potential ban would affect their business.
“We don’t breed our Merino ewes, we buy replacements,” Greg said.
“So I worry that if the trade is shut down and if people move into producing fat lambs and buying their ewes like we do, there might be more pressure on the stud breeders who manage to stay in breeding because there will be so much demand for their ewes and not as many options for their wethers.
“If they stop breeding ewes, where am I going to get my ewes from?
“Instead of my ewes being $130, they might end up being $230 so we might have to re-plan how we run sheep.”