Going with the seasons

Location: Dongara, WA

Enterprise: 55% cropping, 45% livestock

Producer: Geoff Crabb

Soil type: Mixture of light and heavy soils

Pasture type: 139ha irrigated pasture, 1,200ha perennial pastures such as couch, blue grass, legumes; and 800ha tagasaste

Geoff Crabb looks for seasonal flexibility when it comes to managing grass seeds at ‘The Grange’.

In the seven years Geoff has been livestock manager on the property owned by agribusiness company Wellard, the grass seed risk has been different each year.

“If grass seeds get into our wool and meat, it cuts our profits, so preventing contamination is a priority,” he said.

“This requires constant monitoring in the lead-up to the main seed-set period of late September and early October.”

Running sheep and cattle not only diversifies risk – the two enterprises are used strategically for grass seed management. Geoff runs cattle in paddocks where brome, barley and spear grasses are dominant, reserving better paddocks for sheep. 

“We shear adult sheep from 1 September, followed by lambs, so the flock enters the seedy period with short wool,” Geoff said.

“This reduces the risk of vegetable matter in wool and avoids discounting.”

Genetics are also important. Geoff is moving towards an Affrino flock, as the South African dual-purpose breed has easy-care characteristics. The breed’s bare points minimise seed pick-up, especially around the eyes. This reduces inflammation and is important for flock welfare.

Horses for courses

The various soil types on The Grange require different management strategies. In heavier country, Geoff slashes problem grasses like brome, barley and spear grasses, while spray topping is more effective on sandy plains. He sprays paddocks and weans during shearing, so all stock - especially lambs - can go into clean paddocks.

Another tool is infrastructure. The Grange uses a 90m x 15m shed to house lambs to be finished on pellets. About 10,000 lambs a year are turned off for local trade and export markets, with the bulk sold between October and February.

Shedding lambs not only keeps sale stock away from grass seeds, but also plays an important role in pasture management.

“We graze stubble during summer but wind erosion can be a challenge, so the shed takes pressure off paddocks during this period,” Geoff said.

Monitoring the season is another important tool to identify the grass seed risk, in case adjustments need to be made to flock management.

“We know by the third week of August if grass seeds are going to be a big problem,” he said.

“If there is an early finish to the season, we have to book our shearing contractor early, but if it’s a late finish – as was the case last year – grass seeds won’t be such a risk so we can stick to our schedule.

“Grass seeds are very much a year-to-year challenge, so we manage them differently each season.”

The Grange grass seed management calendar

Mid to late August: assess grass seed risk (based on seasonal conditions)

Early September: shearing

Early September: slashing, spray topping

Late September: weaning

Late September to late October: seed set, main risk period

October to February: lambs shedded, main turnoff period

Lessons learned

  • It pays to be flexible, so management reflects seasonal conditions.
  • Breeding sheep with bare points (such as Affrinos) reduces the likelihood of grass seeds entering their eyes.
  • Invest in infrastructure that removes stock from grass seed risk - such as a feedlot or shed.

Dongara, WA
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