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Running of cattle and sheep together has given us a powerful ecological tool for repair and rehabilitation of our pastures. The ‘Herd Effect’ and ‘Animal Impact’ are tools that we have used through our grazing system to repair and restore problem areas, increasing total yield. This allows us to grow all of our meat the way nature intended – from grass.

Eric R. J. Harvey

Eric is a member of Stipa Native Grass Association, Australian Simmental Breeders Association, Australian Professional Woolclassers Association At Gilgai Farms he regularly host field days and training days for a number of organizations wishing to showcase and teach regenerative and sustainable agricultural practices.

Ecological Farming Systems

Gilgai Farm’s ecological farming system promotes an increase in biodiversity to build a resilient ecosystem able to withstand fluctuations in temperatures, rainfall patterns and climate variability while producing healthy and nutritious, quality foods.

Biological Farming

By restoring a chain of ponds system and wetland areas we are rehydrating our landscape to recreate the naturally fertile conditions of the land prior to European settlement. Compost teas are restoring our soil microbial activity which has produced astounding results.

Chain of ponds on Gilgai Farms

Finances

This Case Study is taken from The Central West Catchment Management Authority’s Best Management Practice Guide for the Central West

Eric Harvey operates six properties in the Geurie district and is converting each from a traditional crop/livestock system into a cell grazing enterprise based on enhancing native grass pastures through pasture cropping. The properties are run as three cell systems, each quite distinct from each other. The 526ha property Cooee/Firbank has been chosen for this analysis.

Comparing gross margin results for the farm, before and after the change in farming systems using current prices (2007), gives a clear indication of the improvement the move to pasture cropping and cell grazing has had on annual returns.

Before

Eric traditionally ran sheep and cattle as separate grazing enterprises on the 208ha property. Due to the restriction in water availability to paddocks the property was set stocked and rotationally grazed around 8 individual paddocks. Due to these restrictions the average annual carrying capacity was approximately 6 DSE/ha*.

The property grew barley for grain and some forage requirements along with the occasional wheat and oats crops. The pasture system consisted of lucerne, phalaris, annual rye grass and unimproved native pastures.

After

In 2004 Eric purchased land adjoining this property to increase the size of the holding to 526 ha. Through the assistance of the Central West Catchment Management Authority Eric established new watering points on the property which enabled him to transform the farm into 24 paddocks (grazing cells). He currently grazes sheep and cattle as one unit with a varying rest period (can be from 75 to 150 days), depending on seasonal pasture growth rates for each paddock.

Annually Eric sows approximately 140ha of either oats or cereal rye as the dominant winter crop for extra forage. Crops are sown into unimproved pasture country as a cover crop for six new perennial pasture species (fescues, perennial rye, lucerne, phalaris) (Table 3.1). This approach has enabled him to:

  • Decrease his annual variable costs ($)
  • Decrease the level of soil disturbance
  • Enable pastures to compete with weeds
  • Increase soil health
  • Reintroduce native perennial pastures
  • Increase the stock carry capacity to approximately 9.6DSE/ha
  • Increase whole farm profit.

Table 3.1
Before and after enterprise landuse on Cooee/Firbank

Figure 3.1
Cumulative return comparison of before and after management changes for a 10 year period


It has also seen the re emergence of native grasses to the area such as Warrego grass, panic grass, fairy grass, digit grass and wallaby grass to name a few. The cell grazing system has helped with this as the seeds have been dispersed through the stock across the property.

It is evident from the gross margin comparison (Table 3.2) that the investment in pasture cropping and cell grazing has improved the annual farm returns from $158/ha/year to $204/ha/year.

This improvement is due mainly to the increase in livestock numbers being grazed on the property as the result of increased dry matter production and the decrease in annual variable costs associated with the cropping phase. The dry matter production is the direct result of improved soil management through No Tillage pasture improvement and improved grazing management that enables plants to be grazed when quality and quantity is available and rested whilst the plant is regenerating.

Eric has a strict management regime on pastures and believes you must ‘understand the plant and its grazing potential to gain maximum benefit’.

Figure 3.1 shows that an investment in pasture cropping will return approximately $316/ha/year after 10 years at an investment rate of 5%, whilst not investing will return approximately $245/ha/year. This equates to a difference in whole farm profit of approximately $304,000 after 10 years (Figure 3.2).

Figure 3.2
Predicted profit difference before and after management changes over a 10 year period

Points to Note

  • By changing to a cell grazing system Eric’s livestock health has improved and as a result the variable costs associated with livestock maintenance have decreased. This is not reflected in the analysis.
  • The daily livestock weight gains have also increased which is reflected in the increase in the annual livestock carrying capacity.
  • By tracking livestock movement before and after cell grazing it was evident that before, one steer traditionally moved through only five paddocks in rotation but after, that same livestock unit would move through approximately 20 paddocks in the same period.
  • It is assumed that the annual cover crop is not harvested in the ‘after’ analysis however Eric aims to harvest every 1 in 3 years.
  • No farm fixed costs are included in this analysis.
  • A DSE unit refers to Dry Sheep Equivalent – for this analysis 1 DSE/ha refers to the equivalence of a 50kg merino wether.

The above information can be download.

Pasture Cropping for Soil Health Benefits  Pasture Cropping for Soil Health Benefits  (9241 KB)

 
The Central West Catchment Management Authority