Hand in hand

Location: Cargo, NSW

Enterprise: Dorpers for prime lamb production and trade cattle

Producer: Wes Brown

Soil type: Ranges from poor light soils to good deep red basalt soils

Pasture type: Phalaris, ryegrass, cocksfoot, microlaena, sub-clover, red grass (about 80% native pasture)

After five years of watching and learning, Wes Brown is putting the recommendations from the EverGraze Proof Site at Orange into practice, and has already found his greatest lesson is that profitability does not have to come at the expense of sustainable natural resource management. 

“I think it is one of the most promising outcomes of this EverGraze project – it blows away the traditional convention that one has to come at the expense of the other, and it shows a new way of approaching the business of animal production,” he said. 

Wes has been keenly involved in the Orange Proof Site, not only as chair of the Central Tablelands EverGraze Regional Group but also as a nearby producer; he has been manager of ‘Grenabri’ at Cargo for the past 25 years. He said approaching the landscape as a series of production zones was a real learning curve for the group. 

“One of the most surprising outcomes from the Proof Site was that most of us thought the low production zones would be low in phosphorus and the high production zones would be high in phosphorus but, in fact, it was quite the opposite,” he said.

“It was a real game-changer to learn that if the soil can’t hold water, plants can’t utilise the phosphorus.” 

Wes embarked on a period of transition at Glenabri 10 years ago, with the aim of diversifying income from the traditional fine wool growing to prime lamb breeding and, when seasons allowed, cattle trading. 

This meant a stronger focus on pastures, how to graze them more profitably and sustainably and how to get the best response and value for money out of fertiliser. He applied EverGraze strategies and the research outcomes from the Orange Proof Site and divided the property into high, medium and low production zones. Major infrastructure investments were made, subdividing the property into 50 paddocks, adding watering points and creating laneways for easy stock movements. 

“It has meant almost 10 kilometres of additional fencing (part-funded by a grant through the Lachlan Catchment Management Authority), but it has allowed us to fertilise and graze these areas according to their ‘payback ability’.” 

“It also helped me decide to fence off 485ha of low production country (scrubby bush) and to focus my efforts on the property’s more fertile areas.”

Profit from productivity 

Wes said the approach of only fertilising high production zones had been successful. 

“I can’t quantify the benefits exactly as there have been other factors affecting my fertiliser decisions, such as low rainfall and high phosphate costs, but it has definitely boosted profitability by saving money, creating more feed and generating more income,” he said. 

Wes also embraced the Proof Site’s work on rotational grazing strategies, adapting its findings from a slow rotation system (three months in/three months out) to a faster rotation system with longer rest periods. 

“I keep gross margins on all the individual paddocks on a per-hectare basis for prime lambs and cattle and, as a result, I’ve found the paddocks I originally thought were the most productive, weren’t at all,” he said. 

“It’s shown me that growing traditionally cultivated forage crops isn’t as profitable as grazing native pastures – provided you manage them properly with lots of short, sharp grazings followed by long rest periods and keeping plenty of ground cover.” 

EverGraze recommends greater than 70% ground cover and more than 800kg/ha herbage mass on flat/undulating country and more than 90% ground cover on steep hill country. 

“I try not to let any paddock have less than 1,000kg DM/ha at any time. The triggers to move stock vary, including stock-based factors, MLA pasture ruler principles and guidelines from MLA’s Prograze course which is delivered by the Department of Primary Industries,” Wes said. 

“I know by assessment and feed budgeting how much feed I have in front of me and I can adjust stocking rates accordingly. It takes the knee-jerk reactions out of management and I feel less stressed and more in control.” 

Lessons learned

  • Improved profit and environmental outcomes can occur simultaneously. 
  • Fertilising to production zones is a strategic way of lowering costs while increasing profits.
  • In the NSW Central Tablelands, the land’s ability to respond to fertiliser is influenced by its water-holding capacity.
  • Measure everything you can because sometimes what you think is occurring, isn’t.
Cargo, NSW
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