On Thursday, 12 March, BCG hosted the final event of the ‘Using standing crops to finish lambs and improve summer groundcover and soil health’ project at the Warracknabeal Anzac Park Community Centre. The eighteen-month project funded by the Australian Government National Landcare Program – Smart Farms Small Grants, was developed by BCG and delivered in partnership with independent livestock consulting company, Productive Nutrition Pty Ltd and MacKillop Farm Management Group. The project aimed to demonstrate the economic benefits of a grazing system that matches nutrition to the higher demands of lamb production in a cost-effective manner with better paddock groundcover outcomes during late spring and summer.
San Jolly, Director of Productive Nutrition and expert in ruminant nutrition with over 25 years’ experience, presented to an audience of over 30 farmers from across the Wimmera and Mallee. San began with a livestock nutrition refresher, before diving into the practice of grazing standing crops and some positive farmer experience. San has progressed a system which ensures that livestock on mixed farming properties meet their nutritional needs without an increase in workload for the producer.
Grazing of standing crops is not a new practice within the industry. Field work undertaken by BCG and Productive Nutrition demonstrated that a solid program centered around understanding the nutrient deficiencies of the available feed and subsequently supplementing the diet of livestock grazing standing crops can dramatically increase the profitability per head.
The key to increases in profitability is understanding the nutritional make-up of the feed provided for the animals. “I keep banging on about getting feed tests done and one day you’ll listen to me” San reinforced – and the feed tests backed her argument.
A Sherwood case study of lambs grazing a standing barley crop without supplementation returned an average profit per head of $12.21. Conversely, a mob of lambs under comparative conditions but with a bean supplementation returned an average profit per head of $23.73 while grazing the crop.
Lambs which have been trained to recognise grain achieved better results and it is important to “always sample what they’re going to eat,” says San.
Another case study undertaken at Wilgara Park, Murtoa, indicated an increase in profitability through supplementary nutrition from lentils for lambs grazing on a standing barley crop. Bailey Petering shared his family business experience with grazing standing crops, having established a year-in year-out sowing of Spartacus CL barley, with regenerated clover and barley-based pastures in the non-crop years. They graze standing crops with pregnant ewes, then lamb down in these paddocks and take the ewes out. In 2019, there was so much feed that sheep could not keep up with the crop, and they still harvested grain from one paddock, and cut hay in another.
Alison Frischke from BCG presented the finding from Alan and daughter Ellen Bennett’s property at Lawloit . Alan has been grazing standing crops for 4 years, and sows mainly Fathom barley and cereal rye depending on the paddock soil type. Crops are sown into Lucerne stands, or with clover or Seredella legume components, and grazed from September with ewes and lambs.
The feedback from the event was extremely positive and gave those in attendance guidance on how to achieve better results in their grazing programs. “Sheep are often an afterthought for us, but we are starting to see the profitability in them,” said James Gregson of Warracknabeal. Similarly – those who have been implementing similar practices were impressed with the event. “We attended a workshop in St Arnaud last year, and this has been a great refresher,” said Paul Sheridan of Donald.
Thursday was the last opportunity that farmers had to pick the brains one of the industries most experienced livestock nutritionists as San now moves into a well-deserved retirement.
‘Running a successful livestock enterprise, particularly if it is being managed in conjunction with cropping, involves farmers requiring additional knowledge and skills. San Jolly has been a key source of that knowledge for BCG over many years. BCG will continue to support farmers managing livestock within their systems with information and research outcomes’ – BCG CEO Fiona Best