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Improved Pastures Bring Long-Term Cost Savingss

27 May 2010

QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA - A farmer explains how improved coastal pasture meant he was able to raise cattle without extra feed despite the very dry conditions.

Last winter was one of the driest on record in Central Queensland but thanks to deep ripping and conservative stocking, Brett McCamley did not have to supplementary feed breeders grazing these improved grass and legume pastures.

Brett McCamley, a fifth-generation cattle producer, recently hosted members of the CQ BEEF Bajool group to inspect 324 hectares of coastal pasture development at the family partnership's Fern Hills Grazing Company holding, Fern Hills.

Queensland Government Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation FutureBeef extension officer, Ken Murphy, said that through the Queensland Government's FutureBeef initiative, Bajool district members were able to share their livestock and resource management skills to achieve more profitable and sustainable businesses.

The CQ BEEF project is just one of many nutrition, grazing, breeding and business management FutureBeef projects being coordinated state-wide to improve the profitability and sustainability of the Queensland beef industry.

Mr McCamley readily acknowledges the high capital cost of developing quality improved pastures on the coastal black spear grass and native blue grass forest country clay soils that have traditionally been stocked at a beast to three hectares.

To appreciate the return on investment, the Fern Hills visitors initially focussed attention on a 111 ha paddock which has been conservatively stocked with 30 breeders (3.7 hectares per head) since being deep ripped to 40cm deep with a cutterbar and planted four years ago.

Mr McCamley explained: "We planted the ripped paddock with Katumbora Rhodes, Gayndah and American buffel grasses and a broadcast legume mix of Aztec siratro, Seca and Verano stylo, and butterfly pea with some forage sorghum.

"The paddock was spelled for three months and although it was quite dry, the improved grasses did out-compete the native grasses and the legumes have thrived.

"In the first week of May this year, the cattle turned their attention to eating the legumes as the grass protein content has declined with the onset cooler weather.

"It is worth noting that the legume seed was not inoculated prior to planting yet all have established well and continue to strengthen.

"Before the pasture development the 111 ha paddock was consistently stocked with about 40 breeders.

"We have reduced the annual stocking rate to 30 cows and the higher plane of pasture nutrition has contributed to increased calving rates and eliminated the need for dry season supplementation.

"With careful management, it should be possible to maintain the strong legume content indefinitely to meet the animal's protein demand," he said.

Mr McCamley added that in another 12-hectare paddock, a keyline contour bank system was installed just over four years ago to retain rainfall run-off.

The paddock was planted to a similar mix of Rhodes, buffel, siratro, butterfly pea and stylo and serves as a specialist weaner paddock.

"Coming into winter, this 12-hectare block of high protein pasture carries 200 weaners for 12 weeks as a critical part of the Fern Hills management programme," Mr McCamley said.

"Depending on the grass-legume seed mix, the planting seed cost can vary from $60 to $120/ha and the contractor’s deep ripping cost to aerate the soil and retain soil moisture was $230 per hectare.

"Since planting the first of our improved pastures eight years ago, we have also rejuvenated some paddocks with a Yeoman plough with excellent response.

"In this time, the paddocks have been burnt out three times – two of these fires were in successive years – and with follow-up rain, the grass-legume mix has grown even better.

"Frost is not usually an issue at Fern Hills and the rust resistant Aztec siratro has been a major protein contributor to the winter pasture feed cycle maintaining breeder condition during the dry season," Mr McCamley said.

Fern Hills is home to a successful Brahman stud cattle business run in conjunction with a commercial Brahman breeding herd of 320 breeders which was currently around 75 to 80 per cent stocking capacity.

Fern Hills Grazing Company also runs 340 breeders joined to Charolais bulls on the 1,336-hectare Rannes district brigalow country breeding and finishing property, Telemon.

The company finishes coastal-bred Fern Hills steers and heifers on buffel grass pastures on the 810-hectare Kokotungo district brigalow holding, Chisum.

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