Livestock producers meet their match

A year-long extension program supported by South West Catchments Council has helped 12 livestock entities implement changes to increase pasture production, improve fodder conservation and make cost-effective supplementary feed purchases.

The Grazing Matcher Program, facilitated by agricultural advisors Jeisane Accioly-McIllree, Dan Parnell and Martin Staines, helped producers fine-tune or implement a basic form of rotational grazing using plant cues. Grazing ryegrass at the 2-3 leaf stage and moving stock when pasture has been grazed to 4-6 cm are two cues that helped producers grow more pasture with more capacity to recover quickly.

Retaining 4-6 cm of pasture residual post-grazing was the most significant change implemented by Upper Capel producer Paul Fry.

“I had previously been of the view that hard grazing was needed to control weeds such as wild oats and capeweed. We would graze to 2-3 cm to make sure all the weeds were ‘cleaned up’ by cows before moving to the next paddock. However, this program has shown me the extra production you can get from pastures that recover better when grazed to 5 cm.”

“Now we get much better recovery in pasture after grazing and much better response to fertiliser because the plant is able to take it up.”

Grazing residual pot-demonstration. Pots were cut at different heights, 5 cm (left) and 2 cm (right), in late April and late May. Image taken in early June.

The program also helped producers understand the cost of fodder production, how to avoid wasting fodder and how fodder quality can be improved. Several producers improved their fodder quality by fine-tuning when the pasture is cut and how quickly it is dried and baled, and adopted feed testing to monitor the quality of fodder either produced or purchased.

Ken MacLeay, who runs a beef stud in Vasse, said the program renewed his enthusiasm for silage.

“We cut it early, sacrificed volume to get quality and got this tremendous regrowth, so I haven’t lost dry matter,” Ken said. “It came back phenomenally.”

Participants who analysed fodder produced in 2018 reported significant improvements in protein and energy content compared to 2017. For example, Ken’s 2018 silage had higher metabolisable energy (10.6 compared to 9.5 MJ/kg DM in 2017) and higher crude protein (16.7% compared to 9.1%).

“Quality is really important. We probably lost a bit of focus on that. You’ve got to make the best and not think that ordinary hay is going to do it, which we tend to convince ourselves that it will.”

Another key learning from the program was understanding the amount and balance of energy and protein required by different stock classes to either maintain or build condition. This can be particularly important to maintain or increase pregnancy rates.

Richard Walker from Wilga said that the program helped him refine his feed input during the worst season he’d ever experienced.

“We hand-fed from February to August,” Richard said. “I think we’ve benefited from the right feed input with better pregnancy rates.”

“We centred our feed program on pellets and a bit of hay for extra fibre. I think while it was very costly we’ve also had more returns, so it was worth doing.  It was good through this program to be able to put numbers to what we were doing and refine it a bit.”

David and Linda Brumby from Ferguson Valley also saw real benefits by getting a better feed balance.

“Our agent said our calves were some of the best he’d seen,” Linda said. “I think it’s because we’ve understood the necessity to supplement when they are eating dry hay. They consumed more hay and that’s because of what we did to the rumen. We hadn’t done that before.”

Jeisane Accioly (left) demonstrating how to condition-score cattle.

Matt Camarri, who farms in Cundinup and Busselton and has rotated cattle through paddocks for 20 years suggested that rotational grazing can also improve pregnancy rates.

“I think guys that have been set stocked for a long time will see massive improvements from rotating. When we started we noticed that the condition of cows picked up early in the season and pregnancy rates were better earlier in the cycle.”

The complexity of implementing changes recommended by advisors was helped by providing time for field walks and networking between producers, who met eight times over 12 months at participating properties and also visited two “case study” farms.

This network was particularly valuable to those without extensive networks, such as Linda and David Brumby who manage 80 hectares in the Ferguson Valley.

“We knew no-one and had no farming background in the area before we started,” Linda said. “Going around and seeing other people’s farms gave us confidence that we weren’t going wrong. We felt comfortable asking people, whereas we had nobody to ask before. The fact that it was such a small group allowed that sort of discussion.”

The 2018 program was supported by South West Catchments Council Regional Landcare Facilitator with funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, Meat and Livestock Australia’s Profitable Grazing Systems Initiative, Western Beef Association Inc., and producer contributions.

Places are available for the next Grazing Matcher Program, due to start in March 2019, and is limited to eight businesses at a cost of $600 for up to two participants per business.

For more information, contact Peter Clifton at South West Catchments Council on (08) 9724 2400 or visit https://swccnrm.org.au/library/download-info/the-grazing-matcher-program-2018/

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