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Beyond the Bale : June 2015
36 ON FARM For producer Simon Foster of Fosterville in Tasmania, condition scoring offers benefits that extend far beyond increased weaning rates. “The beauty of all this is that everyone in our business is talking a common language,” Simon said. “My father always told the story of when he came here in the 1960s, he had two staff – one was optimist and one a pessimist. He used to get them to check the feed in the bush runs. He sent one up to the bush one week and he came back saying: ‘oh boss we’ll have to move the sheep they’re running out of feed’. When the other bloke went up the next week he came back saying: ‘oh they’re fine they’ve got another couple of weeks, they’re fine’. Somewhere in the middle was the truth. “Objective measurements, such as condition scoring and pasture dry matter assessments, provide a common language for everyone in the business. They allow me to engage my staff, because we’ve all got the key bits of information: we've got the liveweight targets, we’ve got the pasture measurements and we can all sit down and run the numbers.” Simon, his wife Penny and most staff members have been through the Lifetime Ewe Management (LTEM) course where condition scoring and pasture assessment skills are honed. Engaging his team in programs such as LTEM benefits the whole business according to Simon. “I believe if you understand why you are doing something, then you’ll do it better, be more engaged with the process and gain more satisfaction at the same time,” Simon explained. “The most important question for any of us is ‘why’, isn’t it? “When we are condition scoring, if our staff understand why we are doing it, or why we want stock at target weights or pastures at a certain stage, not only is it more likely it will happen, it also makes it far more interesting for them.” FEED ALLOCATION Simon and his team first condition score (CS) at weaning, when they are starting to think about feed allocation leading up to joining (mid-April). “Mostly likely we have our hands on them again before joining, usually during February, which often coincides with a second summer drench,” Simon said. “During pregnancy we will condition score again (in June) aiming for 2.5 – 3.0CS.” The condition scoring is coupled with pasture assessments. “I go out and do dry matter assessments monthly for feed budgeting purposes,” Simon said. “We have also been doing a little bit of pasture quality assessment, particularly during summer, because quality during summer can be highly variable. So if you are budgeting and wanting to manage livestock to achieve target weights (or condition scores) you have to have a handle on quality as well. “I think pasture quality is not objectified enough. We do a pretty good job of estimating dry matter (using MLA’s pasture ruler and AWI’s Feed On Offer Library), but every now and then we are surprised with animal performance (both better and worse than anticipated) and I suspect that relates to pasture quality.” The pastures on the Fosters’ property are mainly a phalaris, cocksfoot and sub-clover mix, which are the species that will persist under their tough conditions. “We used to sow a bit of a cocktail of species, but in the end we always ended up with phalaris and sub-clover.” This season is particularly dry for the Central Midlands region of Tasmania, so timely and accurate information is critical to both maintaining livestock and pasture condition. AWI’s new Scoring for profit infographic couldn’t have come at a better time for Simon. “This is a great tool that distils all the key points about livestock and grazing management into a single page that covers what is really important in our operation,” Simon said. AND FEED ON OFFER PROVIDE A COMMON LANGUAGE FOR DECISION-MAKING CONDITION SCORING Objective assessment of stock and pastures allows for more rational decision-making about feed budgeting and allocation and cost-benefit calculations, which can all be learnt as part of the Lifetime Ewe Management course. The new Scoring for profit infographic distils key Lifetime Wool messages into an easy-to-understand one-page reference tool. Measure and monitor: Simon Foster regularly monitors dry matter availability to ensure feed budgeting calculations keep pace with seasonal conditions.