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Fodder


The foliage or fruit of a number of different tree species can be used as a source of stock fodder, particularly during feed shortages. The potential for trees to provide valuable stock feed depends largely upon the type of stock and the relative costs of alternative fodder options. Sheep and cattle, although similar in their nutritional requirements, have quite different grazing habits and may require different tree species or management systems. Because the cost of establishing and managing tree fodder systems is commonly much higher than for pastures or annual fodder crops, trees are only likely to be an option as an alternative or supplement for hay crops or purchased feed. To be effective, a tree fodder system must provide fodder of sufficient quality and quantity at a cost comparable to other alternatives.


Fodder Quality
Assessment of the quality of forage is usually based on its nutrient and energy content, digestibility and the presence of any toxins or anti-nutritional compounds such as tannins, oils and salts that may limit consumption. Whilst laboratory tests of nutritional value and digestibility suggest that the foliage of many tree species may make reasonable forage, high tannin and toxic content of leaves must also be taken into account. For example, the tannin content of the foliage of Tagasaste, a common fodder shrub, increases as the leaves mature, making older foliage much less valuable as fodder. If farmers are able to manage the plant so that they use only new foliage, then weight gains will be better than where the trees are browsed only once or twice a year.


Some examples of important tree fodder are the pods or fruits of many trees such as Honey Locust and Carob which usually ripen and fall in late summer or autumn. These may provide a high-energy fodder supplement at a time of year when pastures are dry and low in sugar and protein.


Access and Availability of Fodder

Tree fodder quality might only be of concern during times of severe feed shortages, such as periods of extended drought, where it may be insufficient to maintain live weight and stock health. Many Australian native species including the highly regarded Kurrajong that grow naturally (and have been widely planted by farmers) in dryland grazing areas are commonly used as emergency drought fodder. Although the costs of lopping the branches or pushing over the trees may be high, it is often seen as preferable to selling valuable stock.


The costs of making tree fodder available to stock will be less where trees can be directly grazed. Because overgrazing and ringbarking can easily kill a tree and the time required for regrowth after grazing is usually much longer than for pastures, fodder trees that are to be directly grazed are most commonly established in blocks. This allows stock access to be controlled, ensuring that stock do not overgraze the trees. Where the foliage must be cut the costs of management increase dramatically.


Site Suitability
One of the greatest advantages of fodder trees is that they can be grown on sites unsuitable for pasture or fodder crops. On the deep sands of Western Australia, Tagasaste is able to out-perform pastures, control recharge and protect soil from wind erosion. A range of saltbushes have been grown on saline discharge areas where little else will grow. In addition to reducing surface evaporation leading to high surface soil salinity, saltbush provides supplementary fodder for stock. In high rainfall regions, willows might be grown as a summer feed source where pastures suffer winter waterlogging.


Fodder Trees Can be Aggressive Weeds
Many introduced fodder tree species have become aggressive weeds. Tagasaste isa common bushland weed on sandy sites across southern Australia and Honey Locust is now a declared weed in Queensland. Willows that are able to set seed are choking rivers in many states and are commonly listed as declared weeds. Farmers must be cautious about introducing any exotic tree species into their farming systems without advice. The costs of control can be very much higher than the benefits derived if the plants turn out to be weeds.

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