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Personal Experiences of Managing Native Grasses

Bill and Debbie Hill

Introduction

Debbie and I are in a steep learning curve and have had some problems integrating our new management strategies. During the last three years we seem to have been in a constant state of flux in our attempts to implement a more sustainable system. As we challenge our paradigms we seem to find a better ways to do some things, but as with a jigsaw, all the pieces need to fit together. The reality is that when we change management in one area there are generally flow on effects that require changes in other areas. We have learnt so much from others that we now feel that we should share our experiences, warts and all. The implementation process is far from complete but as we find better ways to achieve our goals we keep refining the system and through experience we hone our management skills.

We have three children, Serenity 24, Robert 22 and Jonathon 13. We run three farms, Corramandel, Broom Hills & Fairview, with a combined area of 540 ha. in the Warrenbayne locality, 20 km south of Benalla in NE Victoria. An important natural advantage is that the average rainfall varies up to 187.5 mm (7.5”) over the 5 km that separates Corramandel and Fairview. The season begins earlier at Fairview and there is a later finish at Corramandel, effectively extending the spring by a month, combined with the irrigation at Corramandel this has obvious advantages. We run 3500 fine wool merinos in a self- replacing flock. 1000 ewes are lambed down in mid August and the grown sheep are shorn in early March. The weaners are shorn at 10 months in May. A self- replacing Angus herd of 140-150 cows calve mid July to September

Debbie and I have a combined vision to run our enterprise in an economically viable and ecologically responsible manner, respecting and enhancing biodiversity. By using regenerative management practices, we wish to work in harmony with nature to sustain a happy and rewarding lifestyle.

We are continually seeking ways to increase the mob size. This requires a great deal of discipline because it is very easy to think of ways to split stock up. It is important, particularly with a breeding operation to have the lambs and calves arrive in the early spring, so that the extra needs of the breeding units are taken care of with the spring flush.. We call this matching the feed to the need. Some supplementation may be required early spring so that maximum benefit can be made of the spring flush. Although we have spring lambed for at least ten years, we have only just bitten the bullet with spring calving and are still refining the calving date. However having the need and the feed more closely matched will allow us to more creatively combine mobs. By running sheep and cattle together from time to time we hope to make use of their complementary grazing habits and to maximize stock density and rest periods. Ultimately we would like to run three mobs of sheep and one mob of cattle for most of the year.

“Corramandel”, the home property, has a heavy carrying capacity with creek flats running up to undulating country, 160 ha with 925 mm (37”) rainfall. We have a 100 megalitre rain fed dam with which we water 30 acres of irrigated pasture. We run a self- replacing Angus herd at “Corramandel”. With some sheep grazing, particularly in the spring to cope with the spring flush.

“Broom Hills” is a 250 ha block situated 2km NE of “Corramandel” and has a rainfall of 800 mm (32”). The soils range from a red granitic on the hills to heavy grey clays on the lower lying areas (Table 1). We run the 1000 ewes and lambs/weaners on this property in conjunction with areas set aside for conservation and shelter. We have integrated some small agro-forestry blocks with break of slope and discharge plantings of trees and understorey. We have had some good results with direct seeding particularly in the wetter/ discharge areas. Cattle are grazed on this block from time to time, especially during the spring flush.

“Fairview” is a further 2km north and is leased from Bill’s sister, it is the original family farm and it also has a frontage to the five mile creek. This block has a large hill and runs down to flatter country to the north and east. Rainfall is 740 mm (29.6”). This block generally runs the wethers, and cattle from time to time, particularly early spring.

We also have access to 100 acres of steep hill country on an as needed agistment basis and up to 1000 dry sheep are taken there 2-3 times a year for 3-4 weeks at a time.

Broom Hills

Broom Hills is a 250 ha block with no power available. (Figure 1) We put in a solar powered electric fence unit in 1999. This allowed us the flexibility in our choice of fence and the ability to put up a lot of sub-divisional fencing to enhance grazing management. This has progressed from a four- wire fence (2 electric 2 earth) to a two- wire electric fence. We have recently installed a solar powered pump so that we could provide good water to all paddocks. Our troughs will be placed in such a way as to service several paddocks from each trough, reducing our infrastructure costs while enhancing stock movement through these centres, or water points. Ideally stock should not have to walk more than km to water.

Management Philosophy

One of our management principles is to work with nature. We are sick of trying to grow things that just want to die and killing things that just want to grow. If it is green and grows and if the stock will eat it and do well on it, then we actively encourage it to grow. In our quest for a more sustainable system we have found that moderate rates of fertilisers and lime not only enhance clover and more highly productive introduced species but also have a positive effect on many of the more desirable native grasses. The protein content of native grasses, such as microlaena is comparable with more traditional pasture species. The fact that it can grow in very acid soils is a real bonus.

A rotational grazing system encourages perennials and we hope to get a balance of 70% perennials and 30% clover, which should give a productive pasture that will provide a good ground cover and be responsive to rain that falls at any time of the year. As we become more aware of how our management decisions influence the biological state of the soil and the water, mineral and energy cycles, we can continue to fine tune how to best work with nature. We try to enhance the biodiversity of the system by giving soil and plants adequate rest through rotational grazing We run large mobs of sheep in small paddocks for a short time to enhance both quality and quantity of grasses and better livestock performance.

Management Principles.

  • Plants require adequate rest.
  • Match stocking rate to carrying capacity.
  • Plan, monitor and control grazing.
  • Maintain a short graze period for high animal production.
  • Use maximum stock density for minimum time.
  • Use herd effect for high energy input into biological system.

Some of our Philosophies.

9 months for the pasture, 3 months for increased animal production. The spring flush allows shorter rotations (20 days) and is the time to concentrate on animal production. This is also the main opportunity to set up quality pasture for the autumn.

Turn a negative into a positive. When you fence off a degraded area take a bit more area and plant or direct seed some trees. When the trees are big enough, the paddock can go back into the rotation. This can be as little as 2-3 years with weaner sheep, your grass will have regenerated and you will have a beautiful, sheltered paddock.

Fence to soil types and aspect, think about stock movement, wide laneways can be little paddocks as well.

We try to think of creative ways to combine mobs and try to do as many things at once when you yard them. We try to time major events to coincide for labour efficiency. For instance, sorting up sheep prior to shearing into micron or type, shear them and they are in the right mobs for joining. With planning the big mob should be going past the woolshed yards just prior to shearing, crutching etc.

Be prepared to make mistakes, my experience is that people who don’t know they can’t do it will generally find a way. Challenge your paradigms, always look for a better way. People who have no walls to their paradigms have unlimited options

People change for two reasons, fear and hope, or their two soul mates desperation and inspiration. Man works in straight lines, a linear systems approach. Nature works in cycles. We have found that people, who can work together in harmony to achieve a common goal, can achieve significant productivity gains.

Name

Area

Soil

Vegetation

Topography

Drainage

B1 Far

18.8

Grey soil

 

Flat

Free

B10A Golf Links 1

9.9

Grey soil

 

Undulating

Good

B10B Golf Links 2

9.2

Red loam

 

Rolling

Good

B10C Golf Links 3

2.6

Grey soil

 

Flat

Good

B11A Camp 1

14.7

Grey soil

 

Undulating

Good

B11B Camp 2

15.9

Sandy loam

 

Rolling

Good

B12A Sheepyard Paddock

6.5

Grey soil

 

Undulating

Good

B12B Microlina 1

5.9

Red loam

 

Rolling

Good

B12C Microlina 2

5.8

Grey soil

 

Undulating

Good

B12F Middle Dam

0.5

Grey soil

 

Gullied

Good

B13A Tag Paddock

11.2

Red loam

 

Rolling

Good

B14A Flowing Well

13

Grey soil

 

Flat

Good

B14B Folly

8.3

Grey soil

 

Flat

Good

B2 Redgum Dam

13.3

Grey soil

 

Flat

Good

B2B Corner

6.8

Grey soil

 

Flat

Good

B2D Alan's Triangle

3.2

Sandy loam

 

Rolling

Good

B4 Reefhills

18.2

Grey soil

 

Undulating

Good

B5 Eleven acres

5.4

Red loam

 

Undulating

Good

B6A Timber 1

11.8

Red loam

 

Rolling

Good

B6B Timber 2

8.1

Sandy loam

 

Rolling

Good

B6D Laneway

0.5

Grey soil

 

Undulating

Good

B8A Spring 1

8.4

Grey soil

 

Flat

Good

B8B Spring 2

13.1

Grey soil

 

Undulating

Good

B8C Spring 3

9.6

Grey soil

 

Flat

Good

B9A Spring 4

4.7

Red loam

 

Undulating

Good

B9B Spring 5

6.2

Red loam

 

Rolling

Good

Total

231.6

       

Name

Area

Soil

Vegetation

Topography

Drainage

B11C Mert's Woodlot

0.7

Red loam

Eucalypts

Rolling

Good

B11D Alan's Pines

0.3

Red loam

Conservation

Rolling

Good

B11E Maculata Corridor

0.4

Red loam

Eucalypts

Rolling

Good

B11F Jonathan's Corridor

0.8

Red loam

Eucalypts

Undulating

Good

B12D Debbie's Trees

4.3

Grey soil

Conservation

Gullied

Good

B12G Peter's Trial

0.1

Red loam

 

Rolling

Good

B12H Pine/Silver Wattle

0.3

Grey soil

Conservation

Undulating

Good

B13B Tasaste

1

Red loam

Conservation

Rolling

Good

B13C Genesis

1.2

Red loam

Eucalypts

Rolling

Good

B13D Wide Pines

0.2

Grey soil

Conservation

Flat

Good

B14C Bill's Hope

1.5

Grey soil

Conservation

Gullied

Good

B14D Dobson Corridor

0.9

Grey soil

Eucalypts

Flat

Good

B2C Frog Hollow

6.5

Grey soil

Conservation

Flat

Good

B6CT Bobby's Trees

0.5

Grey soil

Eucalypts

Gullied

Good

B6ET Mert's Trees

0.4

Red loam

Eucalypts

Rolling

Good

B7 Dorothy's Block

3.1

Red loam

Conservation

Rolling

Good

B8BI Tree Island

0.1

Grey soil

Eucalypts

Rolling

Good

B8BT Alan's Corridor

0.8

Sandy loam

Conservation

Rolling

Good

B9CT Trees

0.2

Grey soil

Eucalypts

Undulating

Good

B9DT Serenity's Trees

0.3

Red loam

Eucalypts

Undulating

Good

BSY Sheep Yards

0.1

Red loam

 

Undulating

Good

Bh12E Agroforestry Trial

0.6

Red loam

Eucalypts

Rolling

Good

Total

24.3

       

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