More lamb from less land

28 October 2016

MLA is taking a new approach to how it extends its research and development with a pilot program that hinges on producers adopting practices to improve profitability and productivity with the guidance of specialist coaches.

Profitable Grazing Systems is being piloted with 95 producers nationally and takes the traditional ‘workshop’ approach to a new level.

Taking the opportunity
South Australian sheep producers, the Hazel family, are focused on lifting stocking capacity on their Kapunda property, so running a local Profitable Grazing Systems pilot presented the perfect opportunity to hone in on productivity.

Fifth generation producer Robert Hazel farms in partnership with his wife, Lorin, and his parents, Clyde and Janet, at Hawkers Creek Farm. Their property, 5km south of Kapunda in the lower-north region of SA, has been in the family since 1842.

The Hazels run 650 Merino ewes and grow wheat, barley, beans, vetch and oaten hay. They join 250 ewes to Merino rams for replacement females, while the remainder are mated to Poll Dorset rams.

Most of the 1,100ha property is arable, so the Hazels finish the crossbred lambs and Merino wethers on bean stubble and aim to turn them off by the start of August. The majority are sold over-the-hooks and sometimes through the market at Dublin.

The family won the crossbred category of the 2016 Thomas Foods International Booborowie Lamb Competition (their Poll Dorset-Merino lambs achieved a 70.4% gain and an average daily weight gain of  276g/day, to dress out at 51.7%). They also sell lambs under the Hawkers Creek Farm brand into the Adelaide restaurant trade.

The value chain is an important factor, and Robert said the Lambex conference in Adelaide in 2014 had motivated the family to look for opportunities to sharpen the grazing side of their business.

They had started implementing strategies to increase production on their existing land so, when Simon Vogt of Rural Directions approached them to participate in the Profitable Grazing Systems pilot program, they jumped at the chance.

Making changes
The Kapunda Profitable Grazing Systems group is based on the Pasture Principles program, which is a practical guide to pasture management and rotational grazing principles.

“We had started changing a few things with the livestock side of the business, so the program seemed like a good opportunity to continue what we had started – the timing was right,” Robert said.

The Profitable Grazing Systems program targets improved business outcomes by taking a systems approach to measure, monitor and manage practice change. In Robert’s case, his new skills and practice changes will be assessed on whether the property gets through the traditional winter feed gap without relying on supplementary feeding and, at the other end, avoids having under-utilised feed at the end of spring.

He said the ultimate target was to increase their stocking rate while reducing grazing area as a way to free up more land for cropping.
Turning challenges into opportunities

One challenge has been uneven grazing, so the Hazels now use portable electric fencing to increase productivity from every paddock by ensuring pastures and cereals are not over-grazed or under-grazed.

They also introduced dual-purpose crops in 2009 so they can run more sheep over winter, and strategically graze some grain crops.

“We plant Naparoo, a dual-purpose winter wheat in April and graze it once it passes the pluck test until around late July and then bale it for hay. This allows us to run the same number of sheep without decreasing the cropping area and, importantly, helps to bridge the winter feed gap,” Robert said.

Increasing the area sown to pastures or fodder crops ideal for baling and selling as hay also provides another income stream.

Hands-on piloting
Robert said the Profitable Grazing Systems program had provided new tools to incorporate into their business.

So far, the group has held two on-farm days – both at the Hazels’ property – and a coaching session in Clare. They worked through how to use leaf emergence rates to develop feed budgets and using growth stages of pastures to calculate the optimal time for grazing.

“We have done rough feed budgets in the past, but these sessions reinforced that we were on the right track and have given us concrete information to base future feed budgets on,” Robert said.

The format of the pilot program, with a mix of group sessions, on-farm days and individual coaching, ticks the boxes for Robert.

“It’s taking us out of the classroom and into the paddock to show us how to put what we have learnt into practice,” he said.

The measure of success
Robert said he also appreciated the one-on-one advice, encouragement and information provided through the coaching model.

“Success, for us, will be to reduce the area grazed but produce the same kilograms of lamb.”

More information
Robert Hazel E:

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