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Beyond the Bale : Aug - Sep 08
14 PAstures Beyond the Bale Gary Butcher of Pithara, WA, has had great success grazing his Merinos on saltbush. he has developed an alley system where he plants a barley crop for grazing in between rows of saltbush and eucalypts. Saltbush adds flex to drought feed management A combination of successful grazing of what were once saline lands and effective feed budgeting has been the key to retaining productivity in dry times for a West Australian wool-growing family By Kellie Penfold G ary and Kerry Butcher, and their son James, run ‘Elena’, a 3900-hectare (2800ha arable) property south-east of Dalwallinu, in Western Australia’s north-eastern wheatbelt/Liebe region. In better years they run 1600 Merinos in a self-replacing flock, but numbers are down to 850 head this year. In 2007 the family created a ‘living’ feedlot on areas planted to saltbush from 1997 to 2002 and, using feed budgets, supplementary fed oats and hay stored from better years. The system allowed them to achieve a lambing percentage of 112 per cent in one mob, fed from self-feeders of oats with hay fed out at 0.75 kilograms a head per day, and by having ewes in better condition. The resulting lambs were all high quality. To compare systems, another mob of 990 ewes were trail-fed oats at 550 grams a head per day, plus hay as required and had a lambing rate of 69 per cent. Gary says the large difference in lambing percentage can be attributed to the disturbance to the animals experienced during trail feeding: “The sheep would rush to the ute and cause a large amount of disturbance whereas the ewes on the self-feeders were much more calm as they knew the feed would always be there. When it came time to fill up the self-feeders (about once a week) the ewes would move away slowly as they normally would, rather than rushing to the ute in the trail-feeding scenario.” ‘Elena’ is a Grain & Graze demonstration farm and the Butchers believe productive use of all arable land is the key to successfully mixing Merino wool production with grain growing, and that sheep production can benefit from having grain on hand for feed in dry times. In 1997 Gary began to sow saline areas and land at risk of becoming saline to saltbush. Despite lower than average rainfalls, a high percentage of the seedlings survived and this encouraged Gary to continue a saltbush planting program each year. A total of 31,000 saltbush seedlings have now been planted and in 2007 the seedlings were planted in a different pattern to the previous block design, which had rows four to five metres wide and no inter rows. The 2007 plantings were laid out on 17-metre-wide rows with 34m inter rows for future plantings of cereals for fodder or perennial grasses. As preparation, two airseeder widths were sown to barley and then a width was skipped for saltbush planting. Another 30,000 seedlings have been ordered for planting in 2008 and they will be planted in the larger rows with inter-row spacings with some block plantings in suitable areas. Gary purchases the seedlings for about 25 cents each through the Pithara Dalwallinu Landcare Group. To block-plant saltbush the cost is about $215/ha using the industry standard of 500 stems per hectare. Gary loosens the soil using an airseeder prior to planting at a cost of $8.60/ha for machinery (2007 costs). A tree planter costs about $150 a day and can plant 1000 stems an hour. Labour costs are factored in at $25/hour per labour unit. The original purpose of growing saltbush was to make use of non-productive land and to fill the autumn feedgap, when it could be complemented by stubbles or hay. However, Gary says a bonus is that the plantings provide good shelter for lambing and when planted in suitable, smaller, areas the ewes do not have far to walk for water. The other drought-management tool in place is grain storage. In 2007 at hand on ‘Elena’ were 420 bales of hay, 120 tonnes of oats and 60t of lupins. In 1972, 80t of oats were buried underground on the farm as an emergency back-up grain supply and it has been opened in previous dry years. It is still a resource of last resort. “This is what we normally like to keep on hand to avoid buying grain at drought-inflated prices,” Gary says. When the Butchers baled hay in 1999 it cost $25 to produce an 800kg bale; in 2003, the next hay-baling season, it cost $42/bale. In 2007, Gary says that if he did not have his own hay on hand he would have faced paying $250/t for hay. Last year the 1310 mated ewes were split into mobs for lambing. Of the 1110 ewes mated to Merinos, 120 were found to be dry and were shifted to a leased block, leaving 990 ewes in that mob and 200 ewes mated to Poll Dorsets in the other mob. “Preg testing ewes at 80 cents a head proved to be a worthwhile investment,” Gary says. “In a drought year it gives you the knowledge on which ewes are the first to be sold if the need arises.” The original intention was to keep ewes in the living feedlots up to one week prior to lambing (late May) when the feed would be away in the pasture paddocks. When this did not eventuate they were kept in the saltbush areas and supplemented with oats and hay until mid-July. In hindsight, Gary says there was a financial return from feeding oats at $11.85/head (oats at $300/tonne) for 50 days. If all factors had been equal, and all ewes were on self-feeders, another 470 lambs could have been produced. If these lambs Saltbush tips Lessons the Butchers have learnt from growing saltbush: ú It will survive planting in dry years ú sheep have to learn to eat it ú sheep prefer rivermore to Old Man saltbush ú Accessibility to plenty of water is essential for animals grazing saltbush ú the saltier the land, the less the sheep will like eating saltbush grown in that area ú Learn from other people’s experience ú Plant on the not-so-good cropping areas first, not the hopelessly salty areas were sold at weaning for $20/head it would have returned $9400, or $5404 once the cost of grain is subtracted. Those eating from the self-feeder did use more grain, at 790g/head/day ($11.85/head for 50 days) as opposed to the trail-fed oats, at 550g/head/day ($8.25 a head for 50 days). “While I now have a record of what it takes to feed for a certain period, and can rely on that next time we are in this situation, at the time you are never sure of how long you will be feeding for and how long grain supplies will last.” It is highly likely the Butchers will face this scenario again and Gary says that next time he will use self-feeders for all sheep feeding, confine ewes to a small saltbush area to avoid overgrazing of pastures, and allow good saltbush utilisation as a feed and for shelter. Traditionally, with ewes grazing on pastures he has achieved a lambing percentage of 85, so supplementary feeding may be on the cards as an annual program. “Already this year we have 750 ewes in this living feedlot situation again, with saltbush, hay and oats used for feed. So far the lambing losses look extremely low.” More information: Gary Butcher, 08 9662 1092, firstname.lastname@example.org; liebe Group, www.liebegroup.asn.au; Grain & Graze, www.grainandgraze.com.au ú PhOtOs: evAn COLLIs
Jun - July 08
Oct - Nov 08