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Whole farm planning increases production

 Focus Farm Facts 

 Land Managers: Emie Borthwick and Sharefarmer Andrew Cabot.

 Location: Tumby Bay            Property: ‘Pillaworta’

 Average annual rainfall: 500mm

 Soils: Variable from non wetting sandy loam with high gravel content to light sandy loam over gravely clay loam.

 Enterprise: Sheep enterprise 1800 merino ewes (37% joined to a terminal sire) grazing 1085 ha of    hills country including 272 ha arable. Cropping 167 ha (oats and barley)

‘Pillaworta’ has been in Emie’s family for six generations and, with young children herself; she wanted to ensure she can hand on a productive, sustainable farm to future generations. Emie was also motivated by the need to adapt to seasonal variability which had limited production on Pillaworta in recent years.

Planning

 Emie and sharefarmer Andrew Cabot, developed a whole farm plan for the 1400ha property, with the main aims of
  • Increasing stocking rates
  • Improved grazing and pasture utilisation
  • Reducing potential erosion
  • Fencing to land class
  • Reliable water systems to each paddock 
  • Revegetation

Benchmarking

Before implementing any changes on the property, benchmarking of the sheep enterprise was undertaken to identify where changes could be made to improve the profitability. One key performance indicator is stocking rates. Currently the property is running 3.9 DSE/winter grazed hectares (wgha) with the potential based on rainfall to increase stocking rates to 9 DSE/wgha.

Right plant, right place & for the right reason

Utilising the grazing potential for the various pastures on offer and the type of sheep is critical to improving production and managing soil cover.

Emie has recognised that improving pastures on the arable land by establishing perennial cocksfoot increases winter grazing potential. Italian ryegrass was established to provide high quality feed for weaned lambs in spring.

Low input cereals are being utilised for early feed at the break of season and then grazed as a standing crop in summer.

Stocking pressure and rotational grazing is being used as a tool to improve the native grass composition in the un-arable hills country.

The starting point

Two paddocks were selected to implement the first stages of the property plan

  • A 154 ha hills grazing paddock with unimproved native grasses and annual grasses was divided into 4 paddocks with a raceway. Shelterbelts were direct seeded as the fences were established. 
  • A 100ha hill grazing paddock with some arable land was sub divided into 3 paddocks. A cocksfoot/medic pasture was established in 2006.
    Andrew used six line plain wire fences as a cheaper option than the traditionally used cyclone fences.

1500 ewes were run as one mob rotating through all the paddocks dedicated to grazing on the property prior to lambing. The ewes were set stocked in smaller mobs for lambing. Once the lambs were tailed at 6 weeks, the 1500 ewes with lambs at foot were run as one mob with a stocking pressure of 135 DSE/ha.

Andrew found that shifting the sheep every 3 to 4 days was easy once they got used to the routine. Moving sheep regularly has the advantage that they do not become used to camping around dams and water troughs or tops of hills and grazing one area of the paddock, leaving the remainder un-grazed. Resting pastures allows for regrowth and recovery time so that perennial plants can re-establish root and leaf growth therefore providing more DM throughout the year.

Soil Testing

Soil tests were taken on the hills and cocksfoot paddocks. The results showed that the phosphorus levels were very low (6 mg/kg). Adequate levels should be around 20-25 mg/kg. Zinc and copper levels were also low in the hills paddocks, whilst the cocksfoot paddock was very low in copper, adequate phosphorous and a pH of 5.4 in CaCl2..
Soil acidity should be closely monitored and lime spread before critical levels are reached

In 2011 fertiliser trials will be established and pasture response monitored to identify the impact of a range of fertiliser combinations.