Grazing Program supporting real change from producers

Feedback from farmers completing the Grazing Matcher Program has shown just how valuable the program is at improving grazing management for productivity and environmental benefits.

After meeting with consultants seven times since April 2021, a group of South-West farmers attended their eighth and final meeting in Lowden recently where they discussed what they had changed and their plans for the future.

Michelle and Ole` McCully from Glen Mervyn changed from set stocking to rotational grazing in 2021 and saw benefits in cattle condition and behaviour.

“Eighteen months ago, our stockman would tell me I had to push the cattle,” Michelle said. “Now they just move. That’s been the big thing for us and it’s because of rotational grazing. They are a lot calmer.

“They are in good condition. Droughtmasters sometimes are a little bit light on, but they are looking good. When the vet came to preg-test for us, she was just like ‘Oh look at that one, has that one got calf at foot? Gee!’”

Michelle and Ole` have been splitting paddocks with a hotwire to give them nine paddocks.

“The hotwires have been a godsend and something new that we’ve implemented,” Michelle said. “And it’s helped us better utilise what pasture we’ve got.”

Following recommendations aimed at maximising pasture growth, they have been limiting grazing on each paddock to 3 days when pasture is growing and then aiming to rest paddocks until tillers have regrown 2-3 leaves. Having nine paddocks means they can rest paddocks for 30 days, enough time to regrow 2-3 leaves for most of the year except in the depths of winter when leaf emergence is slowest.

Extending rest periods has made a big difference for fellow Glen Mervyn farmers Brendan and Robert Giudici.

“We were doing rotational grazing before, but not for long enough,” Brendan said. “We were doing 21 days. Whereas leaving it those extra days (up to 35) has been really, really big. And if you do break the rules, you can tell when you get back to that paddock.

“Understanding the growth cycle, you can quantify how much more you are getting by sticking to the rules.”

Having a few more paddocks can help extend the rest time or slow the rotation speed in winter without grazing paddocks for more than three days, as Ferguson producer Will Poot found.

“I was pretty lucky because the people who owned the property before me were involved in the Grazing Matcher course (in 2018) and had done a fair bit of division around the farm. I think I am up to 13 paddocks, so was pushing out to a 35-day rotation.

“The big thing I have observed is, if you don’t put enough pressure in the areas you want to put pressure on, then the wrong things grow. Then if you get it right, the right things grow and you can do a lot without chemicals.”

The program recommends that pasture is grazed down to a height of 4-6 cm to maximise utilisation without stunting plant recovery and growth.

Hosts for the day Amanda Forrest and her father Lindsay were already rotating stock through paddocks, but the program emphasized the necessity of a proper rotation based on growth cues mentioned above. For 2022, they plan to defer grazing early in the season to help pasture establishment.

“We haven’t really done that before which should really help everything get away,” Amanda said. “We will definitely do it this autumn, putting stock into a sacrifice paddock that we’re going to reseed later.”

Like Amanda, other producers involved have been prompted by the program to make plans for 2022 and beyond, such as designing and implementing fencing plans, doing more feed testing, making more silage or just improving how they implement rotational grazing.

The motivation to make changes is not just driven by the program, but also the regular interaction with other farmers.

“For me, being in a group and meeting more faces in the area was definitely a benefit,” Amanda said. “It has been nice to pick people’s brains.”

Will Poot, who grew up in the Wheatbelt and has only recently returned to farming agrees.

“Meeting everyone else and chatting about things, that’s the biggest benefit for me being new to this style of farming. I had never run cattle before so I had a lot to learn.”

While the program has finished, producers have built relationships over 12 months and will stay in touch with each other and consultants on WhatsApp, creating an ongoing legacy from the program.

To learn more about rotational grazing ryegrass pastures, click here.

This project is supported by South West Catchments Council, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, in partnership with Western Beef Association Inc and Meat and Livestock Australia’s Profitable Grazing Systems Initiative.

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