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Beyond the Bale : September 2017
The broadacre agricultural region of Western Australia can be categorised as either sheepbelt or wheatbelt. Typically, enterprises in the sheepbelt have a substantially higher proportion of sheep compared to wheatbelt farming systems. In this article, AWI’s extension network in Western Australia, The Sheep’s Back, provides a model of cooperation whereby a sheepbelt farmer running sheep on a wheatbelt farm’s stubble can provide benefits for both sets of farmers. There is anecdotal evidence that, for the wheatbelt, if one crops more than 70%, profits tend to decline and risk increases. The reason being, lower margin crops are planted on areas of the farm that otherwise wouldn’t be cropped. This is a generalisation and naturally there are exceptions to this rule. There has been a recent trend of wheatbelt farmers considering adding sheep to their farming enterprise. However, taking the plunge into sheep is not easily done because prices are at record levels meaning significant capital is required to fund your way into a sheep enterprise. Could a model of cooperation between sheep farmers (sheepbelt) and wheat farmers (wheatbelt) be generated to satisfy both parties? We have outlined a simple method of cooperation that requires a sheepbelt farmer running sheep on the wheatbelt farm’s stubble. POST-HARVEST The assumption that has been made is the wheatbelt farm has stubbles, in particular cereal stubbles, which are not being utilised by the sheep. The other advantages, apart from financial, for the wheatbelt farm in having sheep graze on the stubbles are: • Reduce summer weed numbers • Ability to spray graze weeds meaning lower chemical spend • Knocking down chaff piles so they can be seeded through • Grazing chaff lines so they break down more quickly • Recycling nutrients to benefit the following crop. There is the concern that sheep cause soil compaction and thus reduce subsequent yields. It is correct that sheep cause compaction while grazing on stubbles, but it is shallow and transient and usually disappears after the soil wets again. Reduced water infiltration and yield from grazing is due to removal of cover rather than compaction, light grazing has no impact on subsequent grain yields. This was research carried out by Western Australian No-Tillage Farmers Association (WANTFA) and Grain & Graze 2. The benefits to the sheepbelt farmers and their sheep are: • Lower feeding costs (less hand feeding required) • Growing into bigger sheep in the wheatbelt – Increased conception rates in ewes – Increased sale price for wethers. EXAMPLE Agist ewe lambs from the sheepbelt to the wheatbelt for the summer returning them at the break of the season, a period of 20 weeks. The cost of feeding ewe lambs over summer is calculated in Table 1 and includes no access to a fodder crop. TABLE 1: COST OF FEEDING EWE LAMBS FOR 20 WEEKS 20 kg oats @ $240/t $4.80 20 kg lupins @ $360/t $7.20 Hand feeding cost $12.00 The average feeding cost of a July/August drop ewe lamb with access to only pasture and stubbles (no fodder crop) is about $12/ hd. How does this compare to agistment on wheatbelt stubbles? Table 2 includes the costs of freighting the ewe lambs both ways and 20 weeks of agistment. THE SHEEP’S BACK is AWI’s extension network in Western Australia that champions the wool-growing industry. At present there are more than 1,600 members of the network. The Sheep’s Back network provides them with up to date and timely information to assist with maximising the efficiency of the enterprise. Members of the network receive regular newsletters and electronic communications such as emails and SMS to let them know about upcoming events and alerting them of husbandry problems, as they occur, making suggestions as to their alleviation. The Sheep’s Back also organises seminars, workshops and field days throughout the year on appropriate topics for its members. MORE INFORMATION Web: www.sheepsback.com.au Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: Andrew Ritchie, Manager (08) 9736 1055 Twitter: @sheepsback Facebook: @sheepsback Sheep grazing on wheat stubble. PHOTO: Philip Quirk 48 ON FARM
In the Shops - September 2017