Ground Cover Supplement : GC Supplement - Grain and Graze
14 Grazing on cropped land 14 by Justine severin* Mixed farMer MaTT Curtis is meeting the unique challenges faced by growers in the Millewa region of far north-west Victoria by including saltbush and dual-purpose wheat varieties on his Wargan dryland farm. Matt has bucked the local trend of 100 per cent cropping by including livestock, which he sees as a valuable cashflow and risk management tool. despite an average annual rainfall of just 250 millimetres, Matt has found ways to ensure his cropping and livestock enterprises are productive and profitable. The farm supports a 400-head self- replacing Merino flock, plus 300 Merino ewes that are crossed with White suffolk rams for prime lamb production. Matt’s grazed wheat crops, combined with an expanded old Man saltbush plantation on some of his non-productive land, have given him scope to meet the feed demands of his sheep with significantly less hand feeding. GrAzInG CropS While cropping remains the predominant enterprise on the farm (accounting for 2800 hectares of the 4000ha property), ega WedgetailA wheat crops are primarily grown to feed sheep. “getting a crop off them is a bonus,” Matt says. ega WedgetailA was first trialled on the farm in 2011 after a very wet summer and Matt found it did very well. “in 2011 we sowed it early and it went 2.4 tonnes per hectare (12 bags), which was the same yield as our conventional wheat crops. “We grew it because we had the moisture and it went so well we kept going.” Being a long-season wheat variety, ega WedgetailA is sown first and as early as possible if the opportunity is there. “if we get an early break we can start sowing as early as late March,” Matt explains. “This helps with sowing logistics.” sheep – generally pregnant ewes – are permitted to graze the wheat once it reaches about 150mm (six inches) tall. at tillering the sheep are usually removed and put onto saltbush or oats. however, if feed supplies are low, stock are left to graze the wheat beyond tillering until other feed sources become available. “The system is versatile, which is the beauty of it,” Matt says. “We still run the header over crops that have been grazed beyond the optimum stage, although yields are usually reduced.” ChAllenGeS Matt started small when first getting his head around the concept of grazing crops. While encouraged by his early success, Matt concedes the system still needs refining and, in his region, success hinges largely on the season. “i’m still working out when to take sheep out and how to manage spraying. although so far i don’t think i’ve suffered any weed issues as a result of adopting the system,” he says. Uneven grazing has been a concern for Matt, particularly as overgrazing can easily lead to soil degradation and erosion in his region. To combat this he has been experimenting with portable electric fencing, which will make ‘rotational grazing’ a more feasible option and hopefully eliminate the problem of sheep preferring to stay in one area of the paddock. Matt says his lambing management also needs refining as ewes often lamb when, according to crop growth stage, they should be removed. “it can be hard to juggle,” he says. “it’s something we’re trying to fine-tune.” □ * Justine Severin is from the Birchip Cropping Group (BCG). grdc research code bWd00018 more information: Alison Frischke, BCG, 0429 922 787, firstname.lastname@example.org photomontAGe:JuStIneSeverIn,bCG saltbush and wheat add versatility millewa, Victoria, farmer matt Curtis has bucked the local trend of 100 per cent cropping by including livestock on his 250-millimetre-rainfall property to better manage seasonal risk and boost cashflow.
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