Proof in the pudding for holistic approach

11 May, 2005 08:45 PM
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A LARGE plan and control chart is used to map ahead the grazing of cattle and sheep on a west Mt Barker farm.

Owners John and Sheryn Howard called their system Planned Grazing.

Their 270ha farm was small by WA standards, but was blessed with free draining gravelly loam soil and a reliable 700mm annual rainfall.

To gain the most from its hectares John had subdivided it into 13 paddocks, from 4.5-38.5ha, with a total pastured or cropped area of 263.4ha.

These 13 paddocks were further subdivided by splitting them with a three wire fence hotted up by a Spider energiser mounted on the farm's motorbike, which resulted in a total of 37 paddocks that may be used in the intensive rotational grazing system adopted by the Howards.

"All new fences are either four or five electric fences," John said.

"We plan to graze a paddock for no more than three days at any time.

"Mostly it's for two days only.

"The system is founded on the rotation, and set stocking kills out the perennials. "Under our system we find that livestock are easier on fences because they know they're going to be moved shortly to a fresh paddock."

John is a member of the group known as WHAGS (Wholes and Goals), formerly the Great Southern Holistic Management Group.

Under the holistic management system several questions arise:

p Sustainability, cause and effect.

p Identify the weak links

p Sources and users of money

p Society and culture as feelings more than thoughts.

"You need to be careful you're not testing theories just to justify your actions," John said.

In mid-April, 2005, a 29ha grassy paddock was grazed for two days to 900 mainly Merino and 50 Angus and Murray Grey breeders.

Half the ewe mob were mated to South Suffolk rams bought from the Red Bums stud at Kendenup.

The beef females were put with Angus bulls from the Airdcarnie stud, Kojonup.

"The intention is to flock ewes half straight Merino and the other half crossbred Dohne - Merino ewes," John said.

"We're intending to go more for meat, therefore the Dohne input."

The Dohne rams were bought from Murray Drage's stud at Tambellup, and the Becks stud at Katanning.

The wether cross lambs were sold but the Dohne-Merino lamb is retained for building the crossbred flock numbers.

"We like the South Suffolk Merino prime lamb," John said.

"They lamb easily and grow fast.

"As lambing and calving time nears, we separate the cattle from the sheep flock, and the ewes are split into two mobs for ease of management."

The tight grazing system was regularly monitored for its effect on pastures and soil health.

Soil analysis show the mineral balance had improved and pH levels had risen.

Dung beetle numbers were increasing along with earthworm population.

A Massif oats sowing in April, 2005, after the deluge of April 1, was growing vigorously within days of germinating, without the use of chemicals.

Also sown were 14ha of Needilup oats, and both crops will be grazed and finally harvested for seed in 2006.

The Massif oat crop had short rotation and perennial ryegrasses undersown with seed bought from Kelvin Ridgway seeds at Narrikup.

For the past five years the Howards had applied 120kg/ha of Western Minerals, when shutting up paddocks for silage, usually in September.

"When I break up the ewes into two mobs ahead of lambing I do it on a DSE basis," John said.

"I'll know early on how many paddocks I'll need in the 3-day rotation.

"Water can be a bit of a problem but they are on good green feed.

We've found that this system, once the sheep become used to it, works well at lambing time, and we get very few losses.

"They rotate faster in the spring flush because they're eating only the tips of grass.

"In winter it's slower to allow the grasses to fully re-develop."

John said another advantage of a planned system is that he could reduce stock numbers by selling early, so that a good soil cover of grass existed in the summer dry period.

He said a bare soil was bad for its structure, and root development depends on leaf development.

John Howard settled at Mt Barker in 1981 - the son of a milk producer and coffee grower in Kenya.

He travelled the world for four years before arriving in WA to settle.

With his wife Sheryn they had planted many varieties of eucalypts.

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