BCG recently chased down Tandarra farmer, James Taylor:
Can you give us a bit of background on yourself and your farm?
We run a mixed farm in the East Loddon region on both dryland and irrigated country. I farm with mum, Jacinta and dad, Barry and we produce cattle, sheep, crop and lucerne hay. We a run 7500 DSE (dry sheep equivalents) split roughly equally between sheep (self-replacing Merino ewes and a large portion of terminals) and cattle (Santa Gertrudis breeders). The business is currently livestock focused, with a small cropping programme used to renovate pastures. Our pasture base is mostly lucerne, tetraploid ryegrass and sub clovers. I took the opportunity to step into the business this year with mum and dad looking to ease their workloads.
Last year, I worked at BCG as a research agronomist, where I learnt a lot of technical knowledge especially about crop nutrition, soil science and how to grow profitable crops while not depleting soil fertility.
Before that I worked for Meat and Livestock Australia at Armidale, NSW in the Sheep Genetics team. In this job, I helped with providing estimated breeding values and DNA results to Australian prime lamb ram breeders. I really enjoy genetics and animal breeding so we have just started running a small nucleus of recorded merino ewes in the last three years, with the aim of breeding our own rams. I have been collecting pedigree, DNA samples and performance data to put into MERINOSELECT. This year I ran a small artificial insemination program which was very successful. Our breeding objective is to have a fine wool merino that is fertile and easy care.
Tell me something interesting about your farm. Do you do anything differently?
Our sheep are non-mulesed. I think there are only a couple of other non-mulesed flocks around here. We were originally non-mulesed because we had a plainer style of sheep but started mulesing in 2018 when we changed ram source. We stopped after the 2020 drop. We found we had other options. Dags are the main cause of breech strike around here so I have been using worm egg counts, crutching and some chemical control to reduce the risk of breech strike. I’ve started selecting rams for genetic resistance to worms and lower dag scores as well as whiter wools to reduce body strike. There are starting to be premiums for non-mulesed wool and we find other benefits like not having to get a mulesing contractor and fewer cripples from infection.
What has been happening on the farm recently?
The recent flooding event has taken up a lot of energy in the last three weeks. I spent three days moving our own and neighbour’s sheep through water to higher ground. It was a lot of slow steady work but none of us lost any sheep. This flooding event was quite different to those in 2011, with water moving across country that it wasn’t expected to. We are starting to get a picture now of what has happened.
Crops are looking variable, the canola and irrigated lucerne are not happy with the waterlogging. Wheat and irrigated pastures look mostly okay and dryland pastures are powering ahead. I’ve also been catching up on some odd jobs and fencing. The lambs have been marked, lamb survival took a hit this year from all the rain during lambing.
What have been the challenges?
Getting timing right has been tricky this year. I was a little bit later than ideal getting some of the grazing crops in. Fortunately paddock access has still been okay and I could get urea and fungicides out on time. We have been preparing for higher-than-normal flystrike pressure and using worm egg counts to monitor worm burdens in the sheep.
With just over 690mm of rain this year, we have been unable to get any lucerne sown yet because it’s come in so wet. We normally aim to sow lucerne in August but with this mild season, we still have plenty of time to get it in. We might be resowing more hay stands than planned because of waterlogging.
How do you manage your roles on the farm?
We all chip in across all enterprises but have our own strengths. Dad has moved into semi-retirement and helps where he can. After being a shearer for 35 years, he’s always keen to help me clean up sheep or push sheep through the race. Mum’s really into her cattle and helps with sheep work and spraying. We all share the load with irrigation. We outsource harvest because we haven’t got the scale in the cropping job just yet.
What were your plans for your farm in 2022? Did you do anything differently?
This year we tried a couple of new things. We planted grazing canola, which provided a lot of feed over a short period of time before being locked up in mid-August. I also tried a grazing wheat variety, DS Bennett. We wanted to have a white wheat with grazing options for the irrigation country. We are trying to simplify the operation a bit. Barley was dropped out because of few weed control options and it doesn’t yield as well as wheat on our irrigation.
What are your long-term plans for the farm?
Over the next five years, we are going to focus on increasing profitability, simplify and tighten up operations and grow in scale. Mum and dad will probably retire during that time and my sister, Shannon, will likely come on board.
In order to achieve that we will have a bit to do. Some investments will include sheds, cattle yards, soil fertility and renovating the irrigation layout to improve drainage and labour efficiency. We are going to lease more ground to expand our cropping income and continue growing the flock.
We will continue to increase stocking rates and lambing percentages in the grazing enterprises. I am obsessed by the potential to increase our livestock grazing productivity in the next couple of decades.
Who do you rely on for advice?
We have a range of sources of advice. I love reading up on technical publications and research papers and going to field events.
For livestock farming questions, we use John Webb-Ware of the MacKinnon Project (Melbourne University), Rochester Vets and other sheep producers.
For cropping information, I turn to staff at BCG and our agronomist, Beth Smith of Wheelhouses. I learn a lot from travelling to and talking to farmers in different districts.
I usually run most ideas by a few of my mates and experienced farmers to see if they have merit.