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ARTICLES >> Livestock Articles

McDonald - Leads the way in Grazing BMP

Posted by Bestprac on Feb 02 2012

Central Queensland graziers Graeme and Susan McDonald are demonstrating best-practice grazing management (Grazing BMP) on their property “Albeni”
By Mick Alexander

 

Editor’s Note:
The following article details the How and Why of a highly successful rotational grazing system developed and implemented by Graeme and Susan McDonald on “Albeni”, Springsure, QLD. The system implemented by the McDonald’s utilises cattle, and whilst the principles may be generally applicable to sheep, graziers should proceed with caution to develop and implement grazing systems which suit their stock type and environment. It is the principles involved which are important – not the type of livestock used.

By Mick Alexander


Central Queensland graziers Graeme and Susan McDonald are demonstrating best-practice grazing management (Grazing BMP) on their property “Albeni”, 140 km west of Springsure. They have proven the many benefits of rotational grazing over the past decade and continue to trial different methods and applications to implement rest in their pastures, increase profitability and minimise the boom to bust, drought cycles.

McDonalds Best Practices are good for the stock, the land and the pocket and include:

  • Maximise the growth phase (photosynthesis) of all plants
  • Subdivision to small paddocks (25 ha)
  • Rotations of 50 paddocks or more per mob
  • Large mobs of 1,000 breeders/ 2,000 weaners
  • Short graze periods (1-2 days)
  • Up to 360 days rest for each paddock
  • Ground cover above 80%
  • Reduce chemicals/ inputs - Organic certification
  • Reduce direct costs and maximise gross margins
  • Keep learning and adapting 
  • Blade ploughing of regrowth is no longer used
  • Reticulated watering system (troughs)
  • Telemetry (UHF) to monitor water storages
  • Bi-polar electric fencing (2 wires)
  • Low stress paddock moves

More than 100 graziers and agribusiness specialists turned out for the much anticipated field day held on the McDonald’s home property “Albeni” on the 21st February. The McDonald’s discussed how they became involved in rotational grazing and demonstrated the benefits of continually moving cattle through small paddocks. Originally the day was programmed for October 2010 and has been postponed twice during the extreme wet conditions of the past four months.

“Albeni” is a 16,000 ha (40,000 acre) property situated at the head-waters of the Nogoa River and only a stones-throw from the top of the Barcoo and Warrego catchments. The long term average rainfall for the district is 600mm while rainfalls have varied from 240 mm in 2002 to 1,306 mm in 2010. Mr McDonald said, this highly variable climate requires sound management to enable any grazing family to be sustainable. The McDonald’s purchased “Albeni” in 1985 as a raw Brigalow scrub and forest block running only 700 breeders and have transformed it into a highly productive property today running 2,000 breeders plus growing cattle and calves, totalling more than 6,000 cattle (7,000 LSU). The business is now a complete growing out operation with organic certification and supplying the 300kg dressed organic market.

Graeme McDonald has been running a rotational grazing system since 1994 and has adapted the concept to suit the land and the climate with the aim of achieving at least 80% ground cover. The field day concentrated on two main paddock areas, (Red Roo and Devils Elbow) which demonstrated the difference between various rotations. The main paddocks were five to seven thousand acres (2,000 – 2,800ha) each and have been subdivided into many smaller paddocks, some as small as 60 acres (25 ha).

Mr McDonald said, we run stock in mobs of up to 1,000 breeders and up to 2,000 weaners through small paddocks for only a short period of one or two days at a time. At this stage, this breeder mob is working through a total of 50 paddocks, but this changes each season, he added. What we are finding is that the pastures and soils are improving so well that we can drop paddocks out of the rotation and rest even more country. At the same time we continue to subdivide into smaller paddocks. That may mean it took 3,000 ha to run the mob in 2008 and the following year, the same mob requires only 2,500 ha. Our best country is being rested for up to 360 days per year and is only being grazed for 6 days, while our worst pasture is rested for only 250 days, he added. Right now, 49 paddocks of the 50 are resting at any one time in that rotation.

Mr McDonald continued, We are in the middle of a major development phase establishing watering systems and subdividing many paddocks. It is quite easy to visually see the difference between an intensive rotation and less intensive rotation as some areas are not so well developed as yet. He continued, The 900 head breeder mob working the Cattle Creek section are still patch grazing because the paddocks are too large at more than 400 ha (1,000 acres) and the graze period too long. We can visually see the difference in the colour and density of plants in each rotation. He added, The longer rest period gives the pasture a chance to recover and to build both root system, source nutrients and sequester carbon in the soil. Although Cattle creek paddock has the same watering system as the more intensive section, we have not yet established the fences and so stock are not controlled. Mr McDonald continued, Our aim is to have waters in every paddock so that the walking distance is no more than 500 – 700 metres to water. However, even when the waters are in place, it is essential to fence into small paddocks and to control the grazing, he added.

Mr McDonald said, All of the 5 mobs are moving at different speeds in various rotations as we assess the length of graze on the condition of the pasture. We aim at grazing the pastures in phase 2, when they are actively growing and phase 3 during the slow growth phase. Grazing control is the key to success as the fences and troughs are the tools to help us achieve higher yields and healthier pastures, he said.

There were many questions on the day about electric fencing, watering systems, timber control and rotational grazing. Mr McDonald pointed out the importance of the managed rotation, the density of animals to change the health of soils and pastures and the importance of rest in the system. When asked a question about managing regrowth, Mr McDonald said, I have blade ploughed more than 30,000 acres in the past, but have not ploughed any country for more than a decade. He added, In fact, we have not got enough trees on “Albeni” today. Under the shadelines remaining, our soils are healthier and more productive than any of our open country. But remember, this is a grazing system and only works as a system of rest and rotation, he said. The large group of field day participants walked through two shadelines where the soil was soft and friable and pastures were a rich deep green and the air was cool and crisp. Mr McDonald commented, It is interesting that we all want to stand under the trees on a hot day, but continue to clear much of the vegetation which cools our land and grows healthy pasture in hot conditions.

The McDonalds operate “Albeni” with one to two full-time employees and support from family members during busy periods. Mr McDonald explained the need to have staff, who understand why we use rotational grazing management and the enthusiasm for monitoring stock and pasture health. He added, I stay away from calling it cell grazing. I call it managed intensive grazing.

We wish to thank Graeme and Susan McDonald for their generosity and support in hosting the Rotational Grazing Field Day. The field day was organised by CQ Bestprac group and supported by CHRRUP and Farm Ready Industry Grants program.

For more information please call
07 49 383 919/ 0438 395 255 or
go to either www.cqbestprac.com.au or www.grazingbestprac.com.au.



 

Last changed: Feb 06 2012

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