Production

Making best use of the ‘grass bank’

Terry McCosker, Resource Consulting Services, 24/05/2011

 

 

For the first time in about a decade, the majority of cattle producers have more grass than stock to eat it, and little chance of finding the stock to eat it.

In terms of the six Grazing Management Principals discussed under Resource Consulting Services programs, Principal Two talks about the stocking rate being adjusted to match carrying capacity.

In terms of this principal, current stocking rates are generally well below carrying capacity.

There are basically three options available for feed at present:

  • Leave it in the Ecological bank
  • Burn it
  • Eat it and lay it down.

Leave it in the ecological bank

One option is to leave a number of paddocks as standing feed and give it extended rest for the remainder of the year.

This could amount to half to a third of the feed, depending on the stocking rate.

As a minimum, this could be an opportunity to create a “sabbath paddock” system by resting a 7th of the property for a year, as recommended by Dick Richardson.

The effect of this option will be to assist in moving from one state to another by encouraging legumes and desirable species.

If the grass bank has gone into overdraft during the drought, this option will rebuild ground cover, root systems and organic matter, thus providing food and shelter for all the other critters in the ecosystem.

I suspect this option is more suited to brittle environments than non-brittle ones but give it a try on at least one paddock.

Pick the weakest paddocks to do it on.

Burn it

There are really only two good reasons to deliberately burn – that is to control woody weeds and protect against wild fires.

Therefore fire is an option where woody weeds which can be controlled by fire are a developing problem. It is in years like this that the opportunity presents itself without a significant economic cost. Controlling woody weeds or regrowth is best done with a hot fire and mortality is highest when relative humidity is below 25pc.

The second and more pressing issue around fire is the generally high grass yields everywhere which will lead to increased fire risk this year. Therefore fire prevention strategies must be at the forefront this winter. This may include burning firebreaks on the prevailing wind side of the property. An alternative is to heavily graze the paddocks on the windward side. These are going to be much more effective than narrow cleared lines.

The best option for a grass fire in terms of minimizing ecological damage, is a cool fire. This will require burning early in the season and at night. Fire will be more damaging and have more lasting effects in a brittle ecosystem than a non-brittle ecosystem.

Eat it and lay it down

The non-burnt and non-banked paddocks will obviously be grazed.

The biggest issue in these paddocks will be a lack of protein. The way to determine if and when this becomes a problem is with dung testing.

For those in cattle country in northern NSW, Qld, NT and northern WA, I would recommend the faecal NIRS technique. This can be done through Symbio Alliance in Brisbane.

If you are further south and/or run sheep, then a faecal analysis using wet chemistry for faecal N levels is recommended.

In either case, I would recommend a faecal test monthly from now until you reach the thresholds.

The threshold is a faecal N level of 1.3pc. At that level and below, stock will take and respond to a protein or NPN supplement.

Therefore start feeding the protein supplement as the faecal N level approaches 1.3pc.

For further information on protein feeding and dung sampling, please email us at info@rcs.au.com and ask for the latest version of the McCosker Brew handout V9.3

One word of warning for this year.

If producers have had a very high rainfall and or lots of runoff or flooding, they must lower the  benchmark carrying capacity. Halving it might be a useful starting point.

May your feed, stock and business, continue to flourish.

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Comments

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