Key decisions for producers as we head into spring

The recent rain has replenished soil moisture and provided much relief to producers coming out of drought across the tablelands. The combination of an early autumn break in widespread areas of the tablelands, the recent rainfall received and a positive outlook for spring rain, means producers will now have to make some key decisions as to how they manage their pasture and stock.

Fiona Leech and Matthew Lieschke, both senior agriculture advisors with South East Local Land Services, have conferred and provided some advice for producers to help answer the question ‘what to do with all this feed?’.

Cattle on pasture

Use grazing pressure to maximise livestock performance

We know in springs that yield high levels of pasture growth, livestock production is often below expectation due to issues around declining pasture quality. When pasture herbage mass is excessive on a property, pastures move from being in their vegetative phase to their flowering phase somewhat quicker due to less grazing pressure. Grazing is a tool that will help keep pastures in their vegetative phase for longer, thereby maintaining pasture quality for longer and improving livestock performance.

In years like this the only realistic approach is to focus on select paddocks and increase stocking pressure as spring progresses. Sheep producers often do this by combining mobs at lamb marking. The key here is to start early, if the selected paddocks get away you won’t get them back.

Fodder conservation

This spring is shaping up as a favourable one to consider on-farm fodder conservation, whether it be silage or hay making. In making this call it’s important that you carefully choose suitable paddocks. Paddocks destined for hay or silage production need to be clear of rocks, tree stumps and other obstacles. It is also important to talk to silage and hay contractors early as they are likely to be in high demand. Be clear in when they will be able to get to your property.

If making fodder, it’s also important to consider the intended use. For example, will it be kept on farm as a long-term drought reserve, fed back through stock in the short term or sold to generate income? With such a large part of eastern Australia experiencing a good season it’s fair to say that hay and silage won’t move off the paddock like it is has in the last couple of years. So, if your plan is to sell the conserved fodder, have your storage well organised and be prepared to either meet the market or sit on it for a while.

Bring in additional mouths

Another strategy for using surplus pasture is buying in additional stock. However, the high price for store stock at present is making it extremely difficult to generate a profit, especially if you are planning on turning over stock within a 3-4 month timeframe.

If the market follows the normal spring price trough (it seems to have started early this year), there could be an opportunity to buy in at a cheaper price later in the year and supplement stock over summer with grain and high-quality silage or hay. However, this type of strategy needs to be carefully planned and costed out.

Let pasture go

Just because the grass is there, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to utilise it. Fodder conservation or trading of livestock can prove very worthwhile if done in a timely fashion and well, however they can also be a waste of time and money if done poorly.

Given the extended dry run of seasons and the loss of perennial grasses that may have occurred in some paddocks, it will be beneficial to let these pastures run up a seed-head and rest into late spring/early summer. For perennial grasses, the seed setting process replenishes each plants energy reserves before the summer/autumn period. The ability of perennial grass species to recruit new plants from seed varies.  Phalaris is a species that has a poor ability to recruit while cocksfoot is able to recruit new plants quite well given favourable conditions.

This can be a tricky time as every producer will be in a slightly different situation, please contact your nearest Local Land Services office on 1300 795 299 if you wish to discuss your own scenario in preparation for this coming spring.

ENDS

Media contact: Dave Michael, South East Local Land Services, 0418 513 880

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