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Moving Ahead with Rotational Grazing

Posted by Bestprac on Nov 06 2010

By Liz Guerin
Today, the Sleep’s are passionate converts to rotational (or cell) grazing and convinced more than ever of the benefits for their land and business


Six years ago, if you had told Neil and Antoinette Sleep of Peterborough in South Australia, that they could increase the carrying capacity of their 3600 hectare property by 12 percent in addition to other benefits, you might have been met with quiet scepticism.

“For us, the key advantages have been the ability to increase sheep numbers, maintain our lambing percentage, save time and labour and at the same time increase ground cover and pasture growth” Neil said. “We are spending less time with the sheep and getting more out of them.”

Prompted by a run of drier years when cropping returns were poor, Neil said that attending a Grazing for Profit course in 2004 was the catalyst for change.

“Initially I had reservations” said Neil. “It wasn’t until I visited a property in NSW, on 8 inch rainfall, successfully cell grazing that I was convinced that we could do it and since then we’ve never looked back.”

Neil’s rotational grazing system involves running his sheep as large mobs and moving them progressively through a series of fenced paddocks. This allows for better pasture utilisation as paddocks are being grazed all over, rather than in patches. Neil has noticed more rapid recovery of native grasses and bushes and estimates his ground cover has increased about 40%.

Carrying capacity has increased by 12%, whilst supplementary feeding has ceased. In the traditional system, Neil would have fed out 100 tonne of hay and 20 tonne of grain. This has resulted in a considerable cost saving.

“When we started setting up fencing for rotational grazing in mid 2004, we fed the next autumn, but none since then” said Neil. “I’ve got a shed full of hay that has been sitting there since 2001.”

For Neil’s lower rainfall environment, Neil works on a rest period of 120 days after 4 or 5 days grazing. The number of paddocks needed in the “cell” is based on this maximum rest period and the number of mobs to be run. Neil runs two cells on different properties of 43 and 30 paddocks respectively. The average paddock size is around 45 ha. Sheep are moved between cells as the amount of feed is calculated.

Neil and Antoinette’s newer property purchased in 2007 has also benefited from the rotational grazing system.

“The new block was in pretty bad shape when we bought it, but it’s just amazing what it’s done this year in a good season said Neil. “We’re not up to district average in terms of carrying capacity as yet as we’ve been nursing it a bit, but we’re in the market to buy some more sheep, so we’ll get it up by 5% if we can get some sheep shortly.”

One of the biggest impacts Neil has noticed, apart from the obvious positive change in land condition, is the improved handling of his stock.

“The sheep are now much quieter and where they would once take flight at the sound of a vehicle, they now look to see if a gate is being opened” said Neil. “We have more contact with the sheep now, so we pick up any problems, such as fly strike a lot quicker.”

Neil also estimates a labour saving of at least 2 weeks per year with less time mustering and doing water runs.

“We’ve reduced the time spent checking troughs from half a day, twice a week, to looking at one trough in the time taken to move the sheep mob every three or four days” said Neil. “Mustering times are reduced by working the mobs around the cells so that at key times, like lamb marking, crutching or shearing, the sheep are close to the yards – this has made a huge difference,”

Neil is continually refining his system and says that recently he changed his fencing set-up from 3 plain wires with a barb on top to just running 4 plain wires.

“We got rid of the barb as we were finding that kangaroos were clipping the barb and getting it caught on the plain wire below” said Neil. “It wasn’t causing a problem with the sheep, but every time I rode along the fence I had to untwist the wire. Plain wire is easier to put up in any case!”

With many farmer groups regularly visiting the Sleep’s property to observe first hand their system and it’s benefits, Neil says that it is reassuring that they are on the right track.

“We’re still really passionate and excited about what’s happening and we can see huge improvements in our country” Neil said. “I’m really glad we started rotationally grazing when we did. Sheep prices have carried us through very well and that has encouraged us to keep going.”

For further information about Neil and Antoinette’s Rotational Grazing System, refer to the Australian Pastoral Property Innovation Manual (pp 90-91)

Last changed: Feb 07 2012



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