Chicory and Plantain


3 min read

Chicory and plantain

Chicory and plantain are alternative forages to ryegrass for dairy cows, especially beneficial during dry summers when ryegrass struggles due to low soil moisture. A research programme funded by New Zealand dairy farmers through DairyNZ ran from 2010 to 2013 to understand the impact of these forages on milk production. Results showed that when ryegrass quality decreased, cows fed with chicory or plantain diets had higher milksolids production. Grazing frequency had more influence on the growth of these plants than post-grazing leftovers. For better management of these crops, DairyNZ provides best practice guides for farmers.

The Chicory and Plantain programme of work aimed to determine milk production responses to supplementing a pasture-based diet with chicory or plantain in summer, and how grazing management affected the growth and quality of these herbs, as well as their persistence.

This research also used modelling to determine if establishment of chicory or plantain in summer-dry farms increased feed production and quality, and milksolids production.

Chicory and plantain programme detail

Ryegrass/white clover pastures provide most of the feed for dairy cows; however, their growth is often limited by low soil moisture during summer and autumn in areas without irrigation. As a result, interest in alternative forages is increasing, particularly those that are more drought tolerant or have deeper root systems to access water that the shallow rooting ryegrass isn't able to reach.

Chicory and plantain are two such forages available. While both species have been around a long time there is limited information available, particularly for modern cultivars. To address this, DairyNZ developed the chicory and plantain research programme, which ran from 2010 to 2013, with funding from New Zealand dairy farmers through DairyNZ Inc. The research aimed to determine:

  1. the milk production response to increasing amounts of chicory and plantain in the diet during summer
  2. the effect of grazing management on annual herbage growth and quality, and persistence of chicory and plantain plants
  3. if use of chicory or plantain on summer-dry farms increased modelled feed production and quality, and milksolids production.

Experiments were conducted at Scott Farm, as well as on a commercial dairy farm in the Waikato and at the Massey University dairy farm in Palmerston North. The cultivars used were ‘Grasslands Choice’ chicory, a cultivar bred for dairying with low levels of the chemicals that cause milk taint, and ‘Ceres Tonic’ plantain, which has been bred for erect growth and greater winter activity.

In two summer experiments, dairy cows were offered ryegrass-based pasture or ryegrass-based pasture plus either chicory or plantain at 20, 40, or 60% of the diet. When the quality of ryegrass was moderate (10.5 MJ metabolisable energy (ME)/kg DM), the milksolids yields were similar for all treatments. However, when ryegrass quality dropped to 9.6 MJ ME/kg DM, cows fed herbs ate about 1 kg DM more per day and milksolids production was 17% higher than for cows fed only ryegrass-based pasture. A third summer experiment included maize silage in the diet with herbs and pasture. At similar feed allowances and intakes, cows fed pasture plus chicory or plantain produced 13% more MS than cows fed pasture only. When maize silage was added to the pasture plus herb diet, MS production was increased by 7% (compared to pasture only) but the cows consumed on average 2 kg DM/day more compared to cows on the other diets. Meaning the conversion of DM into MS was less efficient when maize silage comprised part of the diet. A longer term study is needed to determine if this additional feed was allocated to body condition rather than milk.

Research also demonstrated that when managing chicory or plantain crops, grazing frequency or rotation length had a greater impact than post-grazing residuals. In the first year after spring sowing, grazing chicory and plantain at 25-35 cm height increased herbage production. In the second year, however, both species should be grazed at 25 cm height to limit reproductive stem growth, which reduced feed quality.

Additional research was conducted in summer 2013 to determine if the rising platemeter (RPM) could be used to estimate the forage mass of chicory and plantain. Dr Julia Lee comments that farmers often ask how they can work out how much feed there is in their chicory or plantain paddocks.  Results show there is a good relationship between RPM and forage mass. Initial equations and instructions for estimating yield of chicory and plantain crops are detailed in the DairyNZ Farm Facts listed below.

Modelling work is ongoing.

Information from this work and other published sources has been compiled to produce DairyNZ Farm Facts providing best practice guides for the establishment and  management of chicory and plantain to enable farmers to get the most out of these forages.

Last updated: Aug 2023
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