Innovative course boosts on-farm productivity
06 April 2016
Improving water infrastructure to better use paddocks has seen western Victoria sheep producers David and Deb Bain avoid de-stocking during one of their driest summers to date.
The decision to redesign infrastructure to boost water reliability at their property, ‘St Enochs’, Stockyard Hill, was fostered by David's participation in an innovative new course – Whole Farm Grazing Strategies.
Following the successful two-year pilot of the Whole Farm Grazing Strategies program in 2013-14, it is now being rolled out to producers in Victoria, SA, southern NSW and southern WA.
The program takes a big-picture approach to improving profitability and sustainability and has been developed from the Future Farm Industries CRC’s EverGraze program, now owned by MLA, Australian Wool Innovation and Victoria’s Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources.
David said he participated in the pilot to help with his plan to reduce paddock sizes, fencing into land classes and increasing watering points.
“This farm has been in my family for 150 years, and when I took over it had a lot of big paddocks, up to 100ha, with water up one end and we were relying on windmills,” Mr Bain said.
“The infrastructure was my big issue - I was growing feed, but I wasn’t utilising it – so that’s what I was concentrating on when I started the course.
“We increased our water points by pumping from a reliable spring fed dam via poly pipe to tanks that gravity fed to watering points.
“In this dry year the reliable water has been a great risk management tool – we haven’t had to de-stock and we were able to utilise all of our paddocks.”
Plan of attack
David said the course tackled issues in a logical sequence and provided the support to help Deb and him make a plan and put it into action.
“I hadn’t really looked into the next step, of how you go about sowing pasture, and the techniques you need to employ to upgrade all the different areas of the farm," he said.
“The course provided the charts and tools to get everything out of your head and onto paper.
“I think with a lot of farmers, everything goes on in their head but this course makes you write it down into a plan. It’s up to you whether you follow it or not, but at least you’ve thought about it.
“It’s one of the best courses I’ve done, and I’ve done a lot of courses.
“In conjunction with other programs, such as Lifetime Ewe Management, we have improved our turnoff by about 10% because of it.”
The Bains run a flock of 4,500 crossbreds, selling their second-cross lambs as stores and the wether portion of their Coopworth flock as stores as well. They also run 3,500 Merinos, producing 18-micron wool.
“Our biggest problem has always been lack of feed over summer. Climate change aside, we needed techniques to provide summer feed, and as a result of doing the Whole Farm Grazing Strategies course, I’ve been planting fodder crops in summer,” David said
“I’ve put in 50ha of lucerne already but I’ve got another 70ha to go, and I’ve found an agronomist who’s helping me with a multi-year plan to make sure when I do put the lucerne in it establishes properly.
“I’ve also changed my lambing and shearing routines.
“I normally lambed in August/September, and I’ve gone to July/August now.
“We were shearing in November, but we get our flush of growth in spring here and it interfered with weaning. Bringing shearing through to October frees up that time of the year to do other things like first summer drench or weaning.
“I’ve also continued with my infrastructure plan. I’ve identified a couple of hundred hectares of native grasslands and I’ve decided that there’s no way I can improve that, so I’m fencing that into smaller paddocks of 30ha or 50ha, so I can manage them better.”
David said undertaking the course with a group of other producers and a trainer provided an ideal forum to exchange ideas and insights.
MLA Livestock Productivity General Manager Dr Jane Weatherley said the Whole Farm Grazing Strategies program delivers information, tools and decision-making processes from the EverGraze project and other related programs.
“It recognises that every farm is unique and producers need to decide the solutions they need to be more profitable and make life easier,” Jane said.
“Approved trainers work with small groups over two years, in six or seven one-day sessions each year.
“Through group discussion, farm walks and presentation of experimental results, producers can work through different options and decide the one for their farm.”
The sessions are structured around seven themes:
- pastures for extensive livestock
- soils and land class
- livestock: strategies to address production, environmental and lifestyle requirements
- the nuts and bolts of grazing management
- tactical management to balance feed demand and supply
- making on-farm strategic change
- producer presentations of change on-farm.
For more information about the Whole Farm Grazing Strategies course and a complete list of trainers in each of the four states visit: www.evergraze.com.au/wfgs
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