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Neither do marsupials. Calves & lambs however, when weaned, seek the herbaceous grey green leaves of saltbush as a replacement for milk protein. Long lived, saltbush grows year round & is unaffected by frost. Deep fibrous roots raise trace elements to the topsoil. Well managed saltbush increases rainfall penetration; it increases the quality, quantity and density of associated grasslands. Saltbush protects protein in pastures growing around its canopy during Winter. 

Millions of years ago atriplex nummularia was part of the Great Inland Forest of Australia. As the continent dried and the moist Inland Forest of Gondwana receded, saltbush survived and prospered throughout the evolving arid zone. However, unplanned grazing from sheep and cattle interrupted the natural growth cycle of saltbush. Saltbush is dependent upon regular rainfall over many days and weeks to strike and establish seedlings. Such rainfall events may only occur once every ten or twenty years. Over the last hundred years saltbush has disappeared from substantial areas of inland country as grazing has not matched the regrowth processes of saltbush.

GRAZING MANAGEMENT VARYS ACCORDING TO RAINFALL, SOIL TYPE & PLANT DENSITY: a) Ideal ratio of about 30% saltbush to 70% grass: so that may be anywhere from 100 to 600 plants per hectare depending upon rainfall, soil and proposed management. Livestock on straight stands of saltbush will go backwards b) intensive grazing episodes are followed by a 6 to 9 month spell from grazing c) save saltbush for winter when its green leaf protein is complimented by a standing body of long growth grass d) established stands of saltbush will withstand extra grazing pressure if available grass is required out of necessity e) grazing benefits decrease as annual rainfall increases. f) well suited to old cultivation country 400 to 850mm rainfall zones. g) saltbush grows in most soil types but actually grows faster in loam soils. It does well in stony country. Duplex clay-sand soils may be difficult to establish, however once established plants usually thrive. Individual plants vary in size; some grow to 3 metres tall, others are short and compact up to 3m wide. In our half hectare Saltbush Plantation, there are 220 Saltbush Plants plus 40 assorted Bunya, Hoop, Silky Oak, Belah and 3 types of Bottle Tree Species. It is grazed with 700 kg of sheep usually for 3 weeks every six months. Occassionally it is used exclusively for ewes with new lambs or a couple of killers are finished on Saltbush for 4 weeks. When lambs have Saltbush Milk you will witness rapid lamb growth, never measured, but clearly visible to the eye.

VARIATIONS to MANAGEMENT PLAN: You do not have to graze it all at once. Thinking of the best Holistic Grazing Managers – how much grass do you leave behind ? – that of course varies according to a broad range of considerations and objectives. So instead of allowing livestock to eat the paddock out – they might eat only 10% and return more frequently – leaving more plant intact to maybe recover faster – which is what our new research is based on.

Horses won’t eat Old Man Saltbush

PHOTO 1:  Bunya with companion saltbush.
CIRCA 2012.

MULTIPLE SMALL PADDOCKS are ideal for controlled grazing, say 300 bushes per hectare in a 600mm rainfall zone. The duration of a grazing episode is ideally 3 to 6 weeks maximum according to stocking rate. Consider fencing stands of saltbush with Waratah Stocktite. Ewes & cows may then graze outside next to their weaners without damaging wires. The cows and ewes are moved away when offspring are settled. An option is to increase saltbush density in one paddock that is opened for access to other grass paddocks. Stock enter the saltbush paddock on an ad lib basis when desirous. The same paddock may then be shut off when needed.

FAILURE TO REALISE THE FULL WORTH OF A PLANTATION is mostly due to grazing too often. It is a 2 to 4 year process to grow saltbush to its full strength grazing size depending upon soil/rainfall. Once a plant is 500 mm wide, it may be grazed, then rested. The first grazing event is best with sheep (but not essential). A common mistake is to plant small patches of saltbush in large paddocks. Grass usually grows faster and so can’t be fully utilised: or the saltbush is overgrazed while making use of available grass. Waterlogging is rare but may occur with very small seedlings during big rainfall events. Saltbush will grow on the edge of ponds but not in water. Full size cattle, especially bulls, will trample even the biggest saltbush, slowing recovery after grazing. Exclusive grazing with sheep requires occasional knockdown from cattle to keep bushes short and accessible. Extreme hardpan country must be adequately deep ripped prior to planting and may require the addition of some organic matter. Saltbush is difficult to establish in sandy soils. Avoid deep sand, clay is essential.

Horses won’t eat Old Man Saltbush

PHOTO 2: Combination of riplines and hard grazing with sheep makes a clean seedling bed. CIRCA 2014. 

MULTIPLE USES: Free Range Poultry Habitat. Dried leaves may be ground and added to chicken mash to flavour eggs. Leaves can be used to breed slaters for chicken food. Windbreak hedge around dams to reduce evaporation. Home for finches, wrens, willy wagtails and wasps. Grown close to selected seedling trees saltbush will provide wind, sun & frost protection. Roots hold cracking soils together and intertwine with the roots of other species to allow for greater ease of establishment in alluvial soils that crack and may kill seedlings in periods of dry. Brittle leafy branches make quality mulch for vegetable gardens. Place a stack of branches around tomatoes to raise fruit off the ground. Dry brittle leaves make nice kitty litter. Cast branches into dams to activate algae as part of the aquatic food chain. Saltbush is a useful garden plant. Cut back to ground level it regrows. Branches are kindling and a source for biochar.

FOREST and TIMBER MIX: Some paddocks may be also suited for perimeter plantings of Bottletrees, Belah and Silky Oak. Saltbush may be configured to form a low rainforest canopy equivalent. In Far Western Queensland, Old Man Saltbush grows mostly in the shade of trees.

RIPLINES: May be cast with a desired legume seed then lightly centre ripped and harrowed. eg: Wynne Cassia and/or Butterfly Pea is ripline planted in spring. The paddock is then grazed bare with cattle/sheep in autumn/winter after legumes are established. No need to rip again before manually planting out the seedlings Apri/May onwards. Saltbush Seedlings will then have up to 7 months to outcompete vigorous summer grasses. Knocking back grass as seedlings establish is not required. Shade from tall grass will assist seedlings during the first summer. Horses of course may be periodically grazed amongst establishing saltbush once big enough not to be trampled.

GARDEN PLANTING: Dig a hole, plant, water in. Maintain hand watering as required until established. May be worth looking at STORY (2) The Long Yard Garden to see how we have incorporated saltbush hedges into our Living Fallows.

IDEAL PLANTING WINDOW: You may plant any time of year provided it rains and you water seedlings as required until established. Cool season planting, April onwards, is a preferred time. With the right rainfall and soil preparation you may be fortunate to water only once on the day you plant. Worst case scenario may be watering every 7 days during Summer until the seedlings are self-supporting, which may be many months if no significant rainfall events occur. Reusable driplines are ideal to establish blocks of Saltbush.

Horses won’t eat Old Man Saltbush

PHOTO 3: Saltbush in flower with a Belah growing up through the bush.
CIRCA 2014.

PREDATORS: Occasionally during the first few months after planting some saltbush may be cut off at the base by rabbits or parrots. You may accidently miss watering one. Insect attacks are rare & are of no concern.

INLAND MILK: Once calves are 4 weeks old they will maintain condition in a Saltbush Nursery when taken off cow for 24 to 48 hours. (increasing with age) It is possible to maintain a periodic milking cow with calf so the that the Maid may take weekends off. If Saltbush Milk was worth $3.00 Litre direct to consumer and grassfed Wagyu X offspring are grown out as bullocks you may well have the most profitable no till animal system on Australian Soil.

FAT CATTLE and SHEEP: It is possible to fatten cattle or sheep on any type of country once optimum stocking rates are maintained and grasslands are fully rested after grazing. Please start your own research into the benefits of Holistic Grazing Management. Savory is perhaps the greatest genius of the 20th Century?

ANOTHER Managment Plan: is to develop say a One Hectare Saltbush Plantation exclusively for finishing on farm “killers”. (a killer is an animal destined for the plate). The paddock is always laden with fodder and may also double up as free range turkey and chicken habitat..

Gardeners and Graziers – Sell Saltbush Seedlings in our PLANTS Section – We Sell Seed as Part of Our Seed Kits in our SEEDS Section.  Find more useful Saltbush information in the Saltbush Plant Profile provided in PLANTS.

*Horses will occasionally nibble small succulent saltbush seedlings, otherwise they have never been observed eating saltbush.

Horses won’t eat Old Man Saltbush

PHOTO 4: Young cattle grazing saltbush.
CIRCA 2016.

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