Sights set on seeds

Location: Lucindale, SA

Enterprise: Wool, prime lambs for domestic and export, direct sale to local butcher

Producer: Graham Clothier

Soil type: Farming sands, blue gum country, sandy loam

Pasture type: 40% sown to dryland lucerne, the rest is annual pasture and some perennial pastures

South Australian lamb producer Graham Clothier avoids processor penalties and lost productivity with a conscientious grass seed management program.

Without intervention, seeds from barley, brome and silver grasses would be a challenge at the Lucindale property Graham runs with his brother, Leigh.

“Barley seeds can get into eyes of sheep, while brome and silver grass seeds penetrate their skin and carcase. This impacts the health of our stock and can lead to penalties if seeds go through to processing,” Graham said.

“Our main enterprise is prime lambs, so discounts from grass seeds would affect our business.”

With 20% of lambs destined for export, he is conscious of market-access implications of grass seed contamination.

The Clothiers’ grass seed strategy is multi-focused, involving pasture management, controlled grazing, early shearing and genetics. Judging by their healthy flock and lack of penalties, it is working.

The Clothiers focus on the following areas to minimise grass seed risk:

Good genetics 

The Clothiers turn off lambs before the main grass seed risk (December), and this is where breeding counts. They use traits such as eye muscle depth and growth as purchasing criteria for new genetics which, combined with good feed, allow stock to reach turn-off weights (47-50kg LW) 2-3 weeks earlier, reducing the threat of seed contamination.

Pasture management 

The Clothiers began improving their non-wetting soils 20 years ago by spreading and delving clay. They introduced a cropping program to mix the clay in, and today grow canola, barley and lucerne. Dryland lucerne is used to consistently finish lambs despite variable seasons. 

To meet their goal of turning off every White Suffolk/Merino lamb produced, the Clothiers finish young stock on lucerne and perennial pastures. Feeder pens provide a ‘relief valve’ if they don’t receive any summer rain.

Strategic grazing

The Clothiers try to keep the most productive pastures seed-free, to finish lambs. They rotationally graze lucerne, moving mobs of 400–500 lambs through 12–15ha paddocks. Grazing time is seasonally adjusted to prevent over-grazing. 

Lambs are weaned into perennial clover and ryegrass paddocks, and are not put onto annual pastures until after seed drop. After shearing, large mobs (700–800) of ewes graze the annual pastures to encourage seed knockdown, reducing seed risk for lambs.

Chemical and mechanical 

Spray topping helps control problem grasses. Graham grazes annuals heavily then removes stock before plant maturity so grasses run to head. He uses herbicide (Gramoxone in lucerne, Roundup on annuals) in mid-late October to prevent seed setting. 

Slashing annual grasses also reduces the likelihood of seeds entering the eyes of sheep. Making silage in early October reduces seed risk and provides an autumn ration.

Early shearing 

Shearing is in mid-October so wool is short going into the main seed drop in December and is less likely to catch grass seeds.

Graham said managing seeds made sense at a farm - and industry - level, because of the potential impact to productivity, profitability and supply chain relationships.

“It’s hard to quantify the cost of managing seeds, but we are very conscious of the impact of not controlling them. Not only would we face penalties of up to $1.50/kg, but it could delay our lambs reaching target weights,” Graham said.

“Managing grass seeds is a win-win across the industry, so it’s important producers play their part to deliver the right product.”

Graham’s tips

  1. Use lucerne to finish lambs earlier and for pasture options.
  2. Shearing before seed drop moves vulnerable stock out of the grass seed-risk window.
  3. Invest in genetics to turn lambs off sooner.
  4. Use every tool available, eg chemical, mechanical, silage hay, large mobs for seed knockdown, feed crops and establishing soft-seeded annuals such as ryegrass as the dominant grass species.

Graham’s grass seed management calendar

Mid-September: weaning

Early October: cutting silage

Mid-October: shearing

Mid to late October: spray topping

Mid-November: slashing paddocks

Lucindale, SA
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