Location: Holbrook, NSW View Map
Enterprise: Poll Hereford stud cattle, composite ewes for prime lamb production
Producer: Ian and Dianna Locke
Soil type: Heavy clays and alluvial soils to rocky decomposed granite hills
Pasture type: 50% perennial (phalaris, subclover); 20% annual (lucerne, ryegrass, forage rape); 7% crops (oats, triticale); 15% native (red grass, wallaby grass, Microlaena)
Ian Locke’s grazing system embraces native pastures on his difficult-tomanage country. It may look textbook perfect on paper, but what it doesn’t show is the long journey it took to get there.
The Wirruna Poll Hereford stud master has spent the past 20 years researching and planning how best to utilise ‘Spring Valley’, the family’s property at Holbrook, and its diverse landscape and soil types.
“My philosophy has always been to get the most bang for my buck, so when it came to pastures, for a long time I was on the high-input band wagon,” Ian said. “I’d made huge productivity gains by improving some of our more fertile country, so it made sense to apply the same approach to our hills.”
In hindsight, it was the wrong approach. Twenty years ago, Spring Valley was a typical eastern Riverina farm with its less-fertile zones – particularly the rocky, decomposed granite hills – dedicated to wool production. This often resulted in bare hills vulnerable to erosion and broadleaf weeds. With the country too steep to even ride a quad bike on, Ian was locked into an expensive, no-win cycle of aerial fertiliser application and weed control that barely met his costs of production.
“On the hills in drier years, I was making $12/DSE and spending $13/ DSE to maintain them. Something had to change,” he said.
After talking to cell grazers and producers with a more holistic approach, Ian came up with a whole-farm grazing plan that better matched his livestock production system with the environment. The property has also hosted EverGraze trials to test out the productivity of a range of species.
“It became clear that since we grow about 80% of our pasture in spring, it made sense to move our calving and lambing times and growing out periods to match our pasture production curve,” Ian said.
Matching pasture to production
Today, the Lockes’ 500 stud cows and 3,700 composite ewes move in a symbiotic rotation around their 1,520ha. Of this, 50% is perennial pastures (phalaris and sub-clover); 20% is annual pastures; 7% is cropping and 15% is native pastures. The small remaining area, which includes tree lanes, is not available for grazing.
By applying a strategic grazing approach to his hill country, Ian has not only cut costs but also boosted profitability by running higher-value animals. Keeping it de-stocked,particularly through summer, allows the red grass and wallaby grass to set seed and regenerate, improving ground cover, soil moisture retention and biodiversity.
“From mid-May to July, 500 spring-calving cows and heifers graze the hills to chew back the mature, mostly low-quality standing feed,” Ian said.
“They are moved out around mid-July, a month before calving. About three months later sheep or backgrounding cattle are introduced to utilise the higher-quality native grasses (such as Microlaena) and heavily graze the exotic annuals such as clovers, broadleaf weeds and grasses.”
By changing his production system to best utilise native pastures, Ian has saved $13/ DSE (by cutting fertiliser and weed-control costs) and, by running higher gross margin returning enterprises, has improved production from the hill country from $12/ DSE to $30/DSE.
“The best lesson I’ve learnt is the value of working with the environment – not against it – appreciating country for what it is, and matching your production systems to suit,” he said.
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