A central concern of the Grain & Graze research, development and extension program has been improving the management of the feedbase on mixed farms through addressing 'feed gaps' - times of year during which the supply of forage is insufficient to meet livestock demand. In this review, we use the available data on pasture growth and quality, supplemented by modelling results, to describe the characteristic timing of feed gaps across the Australian cereal-livestock zone.
Feedbase interventions studied during the Grain & Graze program have mainly addressed the supply side of the feed balance equation. We review these studies, paying particular attention to the time scale of the variability in the feed balance that each intervention is intended to address. We conclude that grazing of cereals (either dual-purpose or forage crops) is the most promising means of alleviating winter feed gaps in regions where they are important. Reducing feed gaps in summer by relying on unpredictable summer rainfall events will increase year-to-year variability in forage production and will therefore require more flexible livestock management systems to exploit it. The use of forage shrubs offers a practical tool for increasing the predictability of summer and autumn feed supply, but given their moderate capacity for providing additional metabolisable energy it remains important to carefully manage livestock over autumn and to manage the herbaceous inter-row pasture.
Feed gaps mainly arise from an interaction between biology and economics. We find, however, that the options studied in the Grain& Graze program for addressing feed gaps require either greater complexity in pasture and grazing management or more opportunistic livestock trading; they therefore come at a cost to the manager's limited decision-making time. Times with feed gaps are also times when particular natural resource management risks (especially erosion) need to be managed. Supply-side interventions to relieve feed gaps will generally use more soil water, which will often have positive effects on natural resource management outcomes.