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Beyond the Bale : Feb - Mar 08
By Fiona Conroy When Geoff Daniel of 'Camoo', at Tumbarumba in southern NSW, is making farm-management decisions, he has the next best thing to a crystal ball -- computer programs that give him probable climatic conditions and their effect on pasture growth, stocking rate, stock performance and the need for supplementary feed. He uses the programs to manage a spread of properties he is involved with in NSW and ueensland. The programs, developed by CSIRO with support from AWI, are part of the GrazPlan project and include MetAccess, GrazFeed, GrassGro3 and AusFarm. GrazFeed is a calculator that estimates sheep and cattle performance on pastures and can predict how much supplementary feed, and what type, will be needed to efficiently reach particular production targets. MetAccess lets farmers access weather records from the Bureau of Meteorology database to estimate probable weather conditions at critical times of the year. The GrassGro program brings the MetAccess and GrazFeed calculations together and uses information about soils, climate, animals and pasture species to predict the quantity and quality of feed and animal production from particular paddocks. It draws on historical data to show how current conditions compare with previous seasons, and how the impact of climate variability can influence pasture production, livestock performance and the financial outcome of a grazing enterprise. Another program, AusFarm, brings a range of cropping and livestock enterprises together and looks at whole-farm management scenarios. Geoff is involved in the farm-management group Grass Farms -- a large-scale cropping and grazing enterprise encompassing numerous properties and running more than 200,000 DSEs (dry sheep equivalents) -- and is a farmer representative on the GrassGro advisory panel. "I'd use at least one of the programs every week," he says. "Grass Farms own and lease a large number of properties in NSW and we use GrassGro and MetAccess to assess the climatic conditions and the capability of each property -- especially in areas we are not familiar with -- before we take the property on. "GrassGro integrates the climate, pasture species, soils and animal classes and gives us an indication of the feed and animal production we can expect. It lets us stand back and look at a property's potential before we make a commitment to invest. Geoff has also used GrassGro as part of a tactical approach to making farm-management decisions over a three to six-month timeframe. "We can assess the feed we have on hand and the condition score of the various classes of stock and use GrassGro to assess our chance of pasture growth in the coming months and plan accordingly," he says. Geoff also uses GrazFeed in individual situations as a 'reality check' on how he expects animals, pastures and supplements to interact. "It's a fantastic tool for weighing up how much feed is in the paddock, the type of stock being run, the level of stock performance required and the amount and quality of supplementary feed needed. "There's so much variation in the way animals and pastures interact, a program like GrazFeed is a great learning tool and helps fine-tune existing pasture assessment, stock assessment and feed budgeting skills." GrazPlan facilitator Libby Salmon from CSIRO Plant Industry says the majority of people using MetAccess and GrazFeed are farmers, while the GrassGro program is popular with farm consultants, government advisory staff and universities. "Farm management decisions are becoming increasingly complex as we try to design flexible and profitable farming systems for our variable climate," she says. "GrassGro brings together decades of research and historical weather records to help assess likely feed availability and livestock performance on temperate pastures in southern Australia. "Some people use GrassGro to plan the 'best bet' combinations of stocking rate and timing of events such as lambing for their grazing enterprise over the long term. "There's also the ability to use the programs for short- term planning, such as dealing with drought to estimate pasture shortfalls and the type and quantity of supplements needed to have stock reach, or maintain, target condition scores. "In many cases, farmers don't need to have copies of the programs themselves because they can access this information through farm advisers who use them." ú More information: GrazPlan products -- MetAccess, GrazFeed and GrassGro3 -- are available from Horizon Agriculture Pty Ltd, 02 9440 8088, www.hzn.com.au Software comes of age for complex farm management With so much variation in the way animals and pastures interact, software programs can be of great assistance and great learning tools 11 PROFITABILITY BEYOND THE BALE Manual a handy, one-stop reference Alison Tancred runs 8000 Merinos in the Gulargambone district of NSW and considers the new Making More From Sheep manual to have a considerable amount of information that could help her lift profitability. "I particularly liked the way each unit is broken up with signposts and tools, and I was impressed that the directions to further research didn't just point to websites and computer references," she says. Alison is the livestock manager on the 6800-hectare family property 'The Maze', near Gulargambone in north- west NSW. Alison runs about 3500 breeders averaging about 19.5 microns. She is working to increase fleece weight while reducing micron. Alison believes that while some of the information in Making More From Sheep is not new, there is always information that may not have penetrated completely into farm management. She believes the uptake of new information can sometimes be slow in the farming community and it is worthwhile having information available in one manual. "I hope the manual can help farmers improve the areas they are weakest in and not just reinforce the area they are strongest in," she says. "The more progressive farmers are probably already doing many of the things suggested in the manual but there is always room for improvement." She says while she was familiar with a lot of the information in the manual there were still many things she could be doing to improve profit. "The beauty of it is if you are keen on one of the modules then you will be able to follow it up by attending a hands-on seminar or a field day." She is also pleased with the manual's holistic approach. "Looking at the farm and the family as a whole is better for sustainability and for the future of farming." Alison has attended a 'Wean more lambs' workshop, which covered whole-farm practice, benchmarking reproductive performance, fat scoring and establishing targets. The 'Wean more lambs' workshop is designed to help sheep producers reach their flock reproduction potential with little or no cost by planning and management.These principles, along with new research findings, are now incorporated in the Making More From Sheep manual. "The workshop was actually held here on 'The Maze' and while many attending were experienced farmers, those I spoke to afterwards agreed it was extremely worthwhile." Alison was keen to learn better ways of managing pregnant and lambing ewes. According to scans on her large- framed, high-fertility flock, 57 per cent were twin bearing but about six per cent of the lambing ewes were lost to toxaemia. "For us, the focus at the workshop was on fat scoring. Generally, we have been running our ewes too heavy and that has led to problems of toxaemia in pregnant stock. "We're now making some changes and very much trying to work towards fat scoring and to improve our supplement feeding to prevent pregnancy toxaemia. "When lambing out in June/July, all the twin-bearing mobs are kept separate in smaller mobs of no more than 250, and weaning occurs at an average of 14 weeks. All our weaners are run on lucerne." As parting advice Alison says: "There is a lot in Making More From Sheep and farmers should take their time to work through it. Don't try and do it all at once." "It's a fantastic tool for weighing up how much feed is in the paddock, the type of stock being run, the level of stock performance required and the amount and quality of supplementary feed needed." -- GEOFF DANIEL
Feb - Mar 08 Supplement
Apr - May 08