Starting at the grassroots

21 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.

Sam and Cassie Bassingthwaighte, who run a cattle enterprise at Jandowae and Dalby, in south-east Queensland, are participating in the pilot program.

Steep learning curve

When Sam and Cassie returned four years ago to run the family cattle enterprise, ‘Diamondy’, after careers in the oil and gas industry, they recognised that disciplined grazing management was going to be key to building a strong business.
The couple are sinking their teeth into their new life, running 5,500ha across two properties at Dalby and Jandowae and raising their young family (two-year-old George and baby, Jack, born in August). They have been on a steep learning curve and said the timing of the Profitable Grazing Systems pilot was ideal.

Sam and Cassie originally completed a Grazing Fundamentals course and were offered the opportunity to participate in the Profitable Grazing Systems pilot with coach Jill Alexander.

“We knew we were out of touch with pasture species identification and matching paddocks with stocking rates, so the feedbase component of the program appealed to us. We also liked how it targeted different factors, from production to business principles,” Sam said.

“We were both raised with traditional grazing practices, but when we came home to Diamondy we wanted to implement modern practices.”

Sam and Cassie said the challenges they faced when they returned to the property included the economics of buying grazing land, working with the climate and a lack of experience with matching stocking rates to pastures.

“We thought we were stocking paddocks appropriately, but the program has already shown us this is not the case. We would have had to reduce numbers if we kept going the way we were going,” Sam said.

Sam and Cassie run Droughtmaster/Santa Gertrudis and Shorthorn/Wagyu breeders, and background Wagyu composite cattle. They aim to turn off steers at 360–440kg for the feed-on market, through the Dalby saleyards or into one of the local Darling Downs feedlots.

Although the couple received 80mm of rain in February and June, which produced some late growth in summer and herbage through winter, their properties remain significantly destocked following a run of dry seasons.

Their current business is 75% breeding and 25% backgrounding, but they plan to flip this to focus predominately on backgrounding, to be more flexible in response to seasonal and market conditions.

“Through the workshops, we identified changes that we need to make and we believe we have a better opportunity to make these changes (especially with improving pastures) with a dry herd,” Cassie said.

“Once we have completed the improvements within the paddocks, we will reassess the situation and will likely incorporate breeding back into our business management.”

Tackling the challenges

With coaching from Jill and practical sessions with grazing advisers such as Col Paton and Désirée Jackson, Sam and Cassie are adding new strategies and tools to their grazing toolbox to match stocking rate with feed availability and prevent running down their valuable feedbase.

These include:

  • pasture identification to determine the percentage of 3P (palatable, productive, perennial) grasses
  • dung sampling to identify pasture deficiencies (which will be backed up by soil testing)
  • feed budgeting to assess short-term carrying capacity
  • supplementation strategies that are economically and nutritionally sound.

“We started making changes the week after our first session with Jill,” Cassie said.

“We destocked one paddock based on the forage budget to relieve pressure on the feedbase. It wasn’t an easy decision to sell breeders, but we realised we had to take the short-term pain for long-term gain to sustainably increase our carrying capacity.”

Sam and Cassie plan to destock on a paddock-by-paddock basis and improve feed quality by re-sowing some pastures and over-sowing others with a legume-based mix. They also plan to fence some paddocks to land type.

Pasture identification revealed that some pastures were not as palatable as they had thought, while dung sampling showed deficiencies in protein, energy and phosphorus.

To improve herd nutrition, Cassie and Sam will replace their winter supplementation strategy with a targeted year-round approach using licks tailored to each paddock. They will use dung sampling, weighing and herd recording to monitor how this strategy affects animal condition, and are shopping around for a herd recording program to improve performance monitoring and reduce inefficiencies.

The Bassingthwaightes have identified a target of a 25% increase in stocking rates in the next three to five years. This will allow them to run about 600 adult animal equivalents.

What does ‘success’ from Profitable Grazing Systems look like to you?

“Success, for us, is for our business to become a well-oiled machine, where we know exactly what is in each paddock and what we need to do to get productivity gains.” – Sam Bassingthwaighte

More information
Sam and Cassie Bassingthwaighte
E: cassie@diamondyfieldservices.com.au

Jill Alexander, Applied Ag
E: jillalexander@bigpond.com

Interested?
The pilot phase is already at capacity, but if you would like to register your interest to participate in the full program being proposed in 2017, email info@mla.com.au

More information
Julie Petty E: jpetty@mla.com.au
http://www.mla.com.au/extension-training-and-tools/profitable-grazing-systems/

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