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SA Road Trip Report - 2009

Posted by Bestprac on Sep 14 2009

 

Chelsea Muster (Rural Directions Pty Ltd)

Cell grazing, planting saltbush, meat sheep, organics, hinge joint fencing and much, much more

 

A recent ‘road trip’ in South Australia and New South Wales exposed SA Bestprac members to these innovations and much more.

The success of cell grazing and rotational grazing has always been questionable in chenopod land systems, and producers were given the opportunity to see first hand the impacts of these grazing mechanisms in this land system.

At Thistlebeds, with Jane KellockGreg and Jane Kellock, of Thistlebeds Station, via Burra, have implemented an intensive rotational grazing system for 5 years after attending a Graze For Profit course. After initially trialing the system on one ‘block’, they later implemented rotational grazing on all their land. An increase in lambing percentages and general ewe condition was enough evidence, particularly through a bad drought period, that rotational grazing was going to work for them.

Regeneration of existing bush has been noted, and increased organic matter is a breeding ground for new grasses and forbs. ‘It’s not the grazing period that is important’, says Jane, ‘but the rest period each paddock gets between grazes’.

‘In this country particularly, we need to be proactive and not reactive’ explains Jane. ‘We are now looking at managing our paddocks for summer, and stocking accordingly. We have projected our stocking rates moving forward based on zero rainfall, and this makes us rain ready if we do receive rain. We need to be planning paddocks 12 months in advance. It’s a different mind set to the grazing system we traditionally used, and it has worked’.

Of course, the system does not come free of hiccups, and managing pests and wild animals is a high priority. However, with less time spent checking waters and sheep, more time is available for pest control.

Checking out the Saltbush planted by Neil SleepIn an alternative land system, with native perennial and annual grasses, Neil Sleep of Peterborough has increased his carrying capacity by 12% over 4 years by implementing cell grazing. With 48 paddocks over 1800 ha, Neil manages the majority of his ewes and lambs as one mob, moving between paddocks every 4-5 days. This rotation allows for a rest period of 120 days, which is ideal in the 12” rainfall (with only 5” received to date this year).

Neil says one of the biggest impacts he has noticed, apart from the obvious positive change in land condition, is the improved handling ability of his stock. The sheep are much quieter to handle, and fencing now consists of 3 plain wires and a top barb, as additional infrastructure is no longer required to contain the sheep.

As well as increasing carrying capacity by 12%, supplementary feeding has also ceased, and in the traditional system, Neil would have fed 400 bales of hay and 20t of grain, which is a considerable cost saving. Neil also estimates a labour saving of at least 2 weeks per year due to less time going into mustering and water runs.

Pasture cropping has been implemented in some paddocks, and along with planting of saltbush which has aided the increase in carrying capacity. Neil uses seedlings sourced from Westons nursery in Waikerie, and is able to graze the bushes 12 months after planting. Neil has experimented with various row spacings, and is trialing planting in a circular formation to reduce the wind tunneling effect, and provide additional shelter for livestock.

A selection of the dorper x damara ewes Gary is using to achieve high lambing percentagesMaking the trek from Peterborough to Broken Hill, our next stop was Churinga Station, home to Gary and Tracy Hannigan. Diversifying to a meat based enterprise, Gary admits he ‘runs some of the ugliest sheep in the district’. Not being breed or brand loyal, Gary is outcomes focused and selects sheep based on their fecundity and fertility; with reproduction rates being a key to the success of a meat based enterprise based in the rangelands. ‘Responding to the higher reproductive rates is critical in managing the condition of the land’, says Gary. ‘Some producers have not recognized the higher stocking rates created through higher lambing percentages, and of course, this can be damaging to our natural resources. Because of the additional lambs on the ground, we have had to reduce the number of ewes in our flock’, explains Gary.

Complementary to his pastoral production system, Gary has placed 8% of his property into an Enterprise Based Conservation (EBC) scheme, which excludes it from domestic grazing. In addition to being paid a management fee under the EBC, he is able to trap and sell goats that have moved into the paddock and the EBC status provides a marketing edge for Gary’s organic lamb brand, all of which contribute to the EBC paddock being one of the most productive on Churinga.

The beautiful scenery of Churinga's EBC area

Following on from Churinga, the group continued to head towards Wilcannia, where we met Jeremy McClure at Netallie Station. Jeremy has converted his property to an organic status, producing organic wool and meat. The organic status has given Jeremy a point of differentiation in the market in the past, but he has not been able to realise this potential in recent markets.

The group was intrigued to learn about the challenges of organic wool production, in particular controlling lice and the restrictions and changed management practices Jeremy has implemented.

With Jeremy McClure on NetallieOf particular interest during the trip was the amount of hinge-joint fencing that is being put up by our fellow producers in NSW. With the ability to breed and manage feral goat populations, some businesses are fencing paddocks with hinge-joint to help ‘goat proof’ and “dorper proof” paddocks for ease of management. This creates an alternative fencing system to electric fencing that is commonly being investigated in South Australia.

We would like to sincerely thank all property owners for their willingness to give up their time and open their businesses and homes to us. The trip allowed us to recognise the strengths in the Bestprac network, the friendships, and potential business relationships that have been created through this network.

We can’t wait for the next trip!
 

SA Bestprac Group Road Trip to Wilcannia, NSW

Last changed: Feb 15 2012

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