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Beyond the Bale : September 2013
38 38 38 ON-FARM Strategic grazing is proving successful for boosting native pasture content and maintaining ground cover in steep hill country for EverGraze supporting site host Mark McKew who runs Merinos on his 600ha property at Warrak in south west Victoria. “The results of our change in grazing management from set stocking to strategic and rotational grazing are encouraging, even though I realise major change is a long-term exercise,” Mark said. “I can see the potential to increase productivity and our stock are in better condition throughout the year. They also produce more wool, which is cleaner and stronger along the staple. “The grazing systems make sense on our low-input native pastures.” Mark’s property is on country that consists of cleared steeper hills with grassed gullies. The soils are shallow clay- loams with low water-holding capacities, which become shallower as the country rises, with rocky outcrops on spurs. There is a diverse range of native pasture species on southerly aspects, including about 40–50 per cent native grasses – mainly weeping grass, common wheat grasses, wallaby grasses and spear grasses. The other 50 per cent are annuals, mostly silver grass with some onion grass and yorkshire fog. The northern aspects have more onion and wallaby grasses. Traditionally Mark set stocked large paddocks, mainly due to limited watering points. This led to under-utilisation of the valleys and slopes and overgrazing of the hill tops. FAST FACTS l Strategic rotational grazing can reduce the seed set of annual species and encourage perennial species in steep hill pastures. l Rotational grazing is more labour intensive than set stocking, but can improve stock and feed allocation. l The challenge is to have enough stock and big enough mob sizes to effectively use the feed, and the extra investment in water and fencing infrastructure. Continuous grazing pressure reduced the perennial pastures, allowing unwanted species to invade. INVOKING CHANGE During 2007, Mark established an EverGraze Supporting Site to try and increase the density of the perennial native species and improve the pasture productivity and utilisation in the marginal, steep hill landscapes. He also hoped to maintain ground cover above 80 percent and increase production. He chose a site across two paddocks, to compare a combintion of rotational and deferred grazing with set stocking. To allow rotational grazing he fenced a 100ha paddock into six smaller paddocks, based on land classes and hill aspects. A watering system using poly pipe, holding tank and solar pump system was set up to deliver stock water and two active erosion gullies were fenced out and rehabilitated. He applied ‘optimised deferred grazing’ using Merino wethers together with the rotational grazing practices across the two innovation paddocks. An adjoining 70 ha, which contained wallaby grasses, weeping grass, fog grass, introduced annual grasses and onion grass, was used as the ‘control paddock’. He set stocked this paddock with autumn- lambing Merino ewes and cattle at about 2.6 –4 DSE/ha. September 2013 BEYOND THE BALE Local graziers see for themselves how production from native pastures increased at Mark McKew’s property. Case study: Managing hill country – the challenges and benefits Mark McKew watches on as EverGraze supporting site co-ordinator Julie Andrew identifies native grasses on his property.