Small grazing groups aim to improve productivity

Fourteen South West cattle and sheep producers looking to improve their productivity and pasture utilisation have signed up to the new Grazing MatcherTM initiative.

The producers have formed two small groups that will meet eight times over 12 months in sessions facilitated by three agricultural consultants.

Grazing MatcherTM is an initiative of animal production advisor Jeisane Accioly, who has partnered with former dairy researcher Martin Staines and agronomist Dan Parnell, to help farmers improve grazing management and business performance.

The program is funded with farmer contributions along with investment from the South West Catchments Council’s Regional Landcare Facilitator Program, Western Beef Inc. and Profitable Grazing Systems – an initiative of Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA).

Ms Accioly said involvement in small groups can be a great help for farmers looking to improve their farm.

“One-off events are great, but it can be hard to maintain the motivation to learn how to use new tools or implement new skills without any follow-up support,” she said.

“If you have a group that can share experiences, receive on-going advice and stay in touch between meetings, the support and shared journey helps to motivate them towards implementation and adoption.”

An online forum has been set up for each group, so they can stay in touch between meetings and access support to apply new skills and use new tools to improve their business.

Skill development is centred around the principle that regular measuring, recording and analysis of livestock and feed is essential to guide decisions and track progress.

To achieve real progress in this area, it’s vital that producers are initially introduced to a select number of tools that are both beneficial and easy to apply, and this is where the experience of the consultants shines through.

For example, the consultants will help farmers monitor pasture growth for rotational grazing using the leaf growth stage, a method that has been trialled and proven in the dairy industry and is easier than cutting and drying pasture.

Each group had their first workshop in mid-December on farms in Busselton and Upper Capel.

After getting to know each other’s background and goals, producers listened to Dan Parnell, who introduced some tools to measure and monitor business performance.

“It’s really important that systems are in place to regularly measure farm business performance at a high level, such as operating profit and return on asset,” Mr Parnell said.

“This gives the manager a base from which to compare their business with others, but more importantly see how changes in grazing management affect their bottom line over time.”

Mr Parnell said there were some key measures of productivity such as stocking rate, pasture harvest and cost of production that should become a regular part of running a business.

“The cost of production calculator on MLA’s website is a good place to start. The key is to measure these things the same way each time so they make sense to you.”

The groups also had an introduction to feed budgeting with Ms Accioly, who helped farmers work through a whole farm example.

“At a future meeting, we will look at individual classes of animals and how important it is to analyse feed quality, especially during the dry period, and how to match feed requirements to a production goal,” she said.

“For example, there are animals that can survive quite well on lower quality feed, while other classes need to be well looked after, otherwise you end up compromising production at a later stage.”

South West Catchments Council has developed a video with Dan Parnell and Donnybrook producer Paul Fry to describe the importance of feed testing hay and how to collect samples (see https://www.youtube.com/user/SWCCNRM/videos )

Each producer involved in a group will host at least one meeting on their farm and take the group into paddocks to discuss their specific management techniques and challenges.

The next meetings will be held in January and February, and will include discussions led by consultant Martin Staines.

For more information on the Grazing MatcherTM, contact Jeisane Accioly on 0403 327 216.

For more information on Meat and Livestock Australia’s Profitable Grazing System program, contact WA State Coordinator Rebecca Wallis on 0400 681 054.

South West Catchments Council’s Regional Landcare Facilitator Program is funded through the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

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