Perennial grasses favoured for cattle

25 Feb, 2018 04:00 AM
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PERENNIAL grass has helped Grant Bain, who runs 700 cattle on his 1300-hectare property.

And though he plays around with cropping cereals, his main focus is on the grass and tree rehabilitation for his cattle.

“I have cropped 200-300ha in the past, but since I have put in these pastures we play around with cropping into the grass,” Mr Bain said.

Limited rainfall east of Walkaway, 50 kilometres south east of Geraldton, meant Mr Bain experimented with ways to feed his cattle with minimum input.

He said the grasses prefer the sand country over the gravel because the roots could tap down and grow, instead of trying to break through the tougher ground.

“Sub-tropical grasses originated from Africa and they were only introduced to WA about 20 years ago,” said Mr Bain, who grows perennial varieties such as Panic, Rhodes Grass and Kikuyu.

These grasses will reproduce themselves without needing to be resown each year.

The perennial grasses are green this summer, which is surprising since Mr Bain said they only had 20 millimetres of rain from storms that went through the area in January, after cyclone Joyce.

“If you go out there and spit on it, it goes green,’’ he said.

“It doesn’t seem to need a huge amount of moisture in this environment.”

Mr Bain has been contract seeding perennials for more than 10 years.

Seeding starts on August 1 and the work finishes in Gingin by the middle of September.

He built a machine that helps to plant grasses due to the process being different from the usual seeding of grains.

“A lot of people have a go at building their own machine, with varying degrees of success,” he said.

“But a lot of people can’t be bothered, so it becomes easier to get a contractor in.”

Perennial grasses are a foreign concept for many farmers, with the grazing and growing of the species up to the individual grower.

The grasses should be left for about 12 months before they are grazed for their best chance of survival.

Mr Bain said in theory the grasses should go dormant over winter, but in practice that isn’t always the case.

The ex-pastoral man, who grew up on a station 200km north west of Meekatharra but left his station in 2002.

“My wife and I made the transition between running a station and a farm at Carnamah before we sold it all up for a block here,” he said.

He runs 1300ha of that block with station cattle and leases out the remaining farmland.

Mr Bain has a keen interest in live export cattle, crossing a Charolais bull over Brahman cows.

“They usually have a bit more ear and soft skin, which is something I just like about them,” he said.

“We will jack it up in the next 12 months to between 800-1000 head of cattle, once we get everything ready.”

Looking after his cattle, Mr Bain strives to have a close relationship with his cows and groups of them come up to investigate the ute as it stops in the paddock.

Another way he chooses to look after them is with a new concept of growing trees and grazing shrubs to improve their diet and habitat.

“We are putting some gum tree lines in and among that we are putting in saltbush and anything else we think the cattle might eat under the gum trees,” he said.

“This way we are getting shelter and some shrub, which is a bit of a variation other than just grass.”

Limited water supply makes it a little bit harder to run cattle.

Mr Bain runs all his water from his main sheds to the other side of his property.

“We have a main bore back at the sheds and that is piped out here to the tank,’’ he said.

“We plan to put two troughs in the laneway and each paddock will have access to that, so they can have water available.”

Mr Bain has five paddocks to one side of the lane way and four on the other, which all feed into the laneway.

In 2017, he planted a wheat crop in his perennial grass but early on he found the crop had a lot of ryegrass.

Mr Bain, who feared there would be a lot of ergot due to the gravel country, decided to let his cattle come in and clean out the wheat instead of harvesting it.

“We estimated that we would get a return of $200 per hectare off it, so the cattle ate it off while it was green and we estimated a $450/h return from that.”

Mr Bain said if his crops were not going to produce close to two tonnes he would graze it off to the cattle.

On Wednesday, March 21, Mr Bain, along with Evergreen Farming executive officer Phil Barrett-Lennard, Gingin, will run a field walk on surrounding properties east of Walkaway.

“It’s a day to talk to the landholders and get a bit of an explanation from them and how they manage their pastures and grazing,” Mr Bain said.

- More information on the field walk: go online to evergreen.asn.au

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