The saying goes that you need money to make money, but do you need hay to make hay?
It seems so, according to agricultural consultant Dr Martin Staines and agronomist Dan Parnell.
The pair are about to embark on a series of workshops in Albany, Harvey and Busselton designed to help beef and sheep farmers produce more hay and silage from their pastures.
Dr Staines has researched pasture and feed based systems for the past 30 years, and while his experience is with intensive dairy systems, the basics of hay and silage production are just as applicable to beef and sheep producers.
“To me it comes down to setting up your grazing management so you can grow the maximum amount of silage and hay for your farm,” Dr Staines says.
He believes the key to promoting pasture growth for grazing and fodder is to spell paddocks throughout the season with rotational grazing, and use fodder reserves to help match the speed of the rotation to pasture growth.
“Your rotation speed is sacred and is set by seasonal pasture growth rates. You only move stock when pasture in the next paddock is ready to be grazed,” Dr Staines says.
“If it’s not ready and you’re running out of feed in the paddock you’re in, you need to feed supplement in that paddock until the next paddock is ready.
“Alternatively, if you have too much feed then you know you can start dropping paddocks out for a feed wedge, or for hay or silage.”
The strategy focuses on ensuring pasture is not grazed too hard, which can stunt growth, but is instead left with enough energy in reserve to quickly grow new leaves. Fast growth is especially important during the profitable spring season.
Mr Parnell agrees that the health of the pasture is paramount, and says that farmers can monitor pasture leaf stage and post grazing residuals to help them decide when to move stock.
“The grass sets how much a paddock can be grazed, not the animals,” Mr Parnell says.
The decision to use up fodder stocks and possibly buy in feed if stocks run low might appear risky, but Mr Parnell says farmers who do this can see the benefits with much better spring pasture growth and hay production.
“I’ve got a client who has learnt a lot about supplementary feeding this year and is considering feeding all year round just to get the most out of the pasture,” Mr Parnell says.
“Supplementary feeding has taken the pressure off the pasture, and better growth helps you get the most value out of your fertilisers.”
The workshops will also cover off on the practicalities of cutting and making hay, and take a ‘back-to-basics’ look at business management using some typical business scenarios. Mr Parnell says the key is understanding their cost of production.
“For example, how do you know if you will make more money by using fertiliser in spring?” Mr Parnell says. “I think it’s important to put processes in place to measure or track that.”
The series of events was initiated by animal production advisor Jeisane Accioly, who will discuss how farmers can monitor animal condition and manage the summer-autumn feed-gap.
“People need to plan ahead to see how much feed they’re going to need over the feed-gap and prioritise which animals should be getting the best feed and how much,” Dr Accioly says.
“It’s important to understand feed quality and quantity and likely deficiencies when animals go without green grass for a considerable time.”
Workshop organisers are keen to build on the day’s learning through the development of small discussion and support groups to help farmers work through issues over the next 10-12 months.
Workshops will be held in Albany on 22 August, Harvey on 23 August and Busselton on 24 August. The cost of the workshop is $50 per person and registration can be completed online at https://swccnrm.org.au/events/. Otherwise, call Peter Clifton at South West Catchments Council on 9724 2469.
The events are supported by South West Catchments Council, Peel–Harvey Catchments Council, and South Coast Natural Resource Management’s Regional Landcare Facilitator Programmes, with funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme and Western Beef Inc., and sponsorship from Milne AgriGroup and Elders.