SOUTH West livestock farmers have been learning how to better match their grazing system inputs to maximise outputs - turning pasture into profitability.
In its fourth year, the Grazing Matcher program supports beef and sheep farmers to improve grazing, fodder and feed decisions for increased efficiency.
As part of Grazing Matcher, small groups of eight businesses (each can nominate two participants) meet over a 12-month period, each taking a turn to host a half-day meeting facilitated by livestock adviser Jeisane Accioly and agronomist Dan Parnell, with veterinarian Dario Nandapi also facilitating some sessions.
Ms Accioly said understanding how stock requirements fluctuated over an annual cycle and incorporating that to the plan put people in a better position, independent of the season or the size of an operation.
Mr Parnell said it was "all about the manager gaining control of systems, rather than allowing animals or pastures to run the show".
The learning program provides producers with WA relevant evidence-based principles, supporting them to build knowledge and confidence to implement changes in their grazing system.
Hands-on exercises and group discussions are also part of the mix to equip producers to make better decisions under variable seasonal conditions.
Last month, the South West Catchment Council's Grazing Matcher group, which is also supported by Regional Agriculture Landcare facilitator Peter Clifton, met at Lowden farmers Amanda and Lindsay Forrest's property to recap what they learned during the program and discuss the changes they had made to their systems.
GLENN Hoskins was slightly understocked this year, so he found it difficult to implement rotational grazing into his program.
Last year, his first calvers were slightly overweight and had trouble calving, so he decided to put them into groups of 30 in two paddocks.
"They were eating it right up to the fence in one of the worst paddocks and by the end of the season it was one of the best because they were eating all the weeds out of it," Mr Hoskins said.
"Towards the end of the season, I put in a couple of electric fences and started strip grazing - I found benefit in that also.
"Weeds are definitely a large aspect of it and having the right stocking rate certainly helps."
Strip grazing involves utilising a moveable, electric fence to supply enough forage for a short period and then moving the fence forward to provide a new allocation of forage.
Typically, no back fencing is used in this method and grazing starts in the area nearest to the water point to reduce waste due to trampling.
Strip grazing can be used in combination with rotational grazing.
In the next 12 months, Mr Hoskins plans on installing more fencing and piping for his troughs.
GRAZING Matcher influenced the McCullys' decision to introduce rotational grazing and hotwire fencing to their farming systems.
Ms McCully labelled hotwire fencing as "a godsend" and said rotational grazing had improved the condition and temperament of cattle.
"Our cattle are used to being moved now and are much calmer," Ms McCully said.
"That means we don't have to push them anymore, which has been a big thing for us.
"They are also in really great condition - sometimes the Droughtmasters are a little light on - but otherwise they are looking good."
When asked whether or not the rotation made them feel more in control with the grass, the McCullys said, "yes definitely".
"It is more concentrated now, you can see where the line of the hotwire is and where cattle are sticking their head underneath," they said.
"We are trying to go for the 30-day rotation and break cattle into nine paddocks."
As for future plans, the McCullys are looking at increasing the size of their top dam, so it covers the entire acreage.
"We run some irrigation on the flats there and have been growing some millet and sorghum - they are both going gangbusters," Mr McCully said.
"That will help with feed in the summer, we have already started feeding off the millet."
The pair also hopes to turn the laneway paddock, which is below their top paddock, into something more permanent.
They said the long-term goal would be to fence it off and have gates into the laneway, so animals can access the water trough.
NEW to the cattle game, Mr Poot said the biggest benefit of Grazing Matcher was networking, as he was able to learn from other farmers.
The previous owners of his property were involved in the program and had already done some division on the farm.
This meant adopting rotational grazing was a smooth process.
"I was able to observe I couldn't get enough pressure in all of the paddocks the way it had been done to date," he said.
"I am trialling the electric fences, so I have only put one more permanent fence in.
"I think I am up to 13 paddocks and was pushing out to 35 day rotations.
"I didn't have quite enough stock, but next year I will adjust it slightly and see how I go."
The biggest observation Mr Poot made was that "the wrong things grow" if not enough pressure is put on areas where pressure is wanted.
With so much feed in paddocks, he said he was holding cattle in paddocks for longer.
"I have some kikuyu in low areas and heavy grass still in top areas.
"I am maybe grazing for a week and then moving them on, whereas before I was grazing for two to four days.
"I am keeping a couple of paddocks to spoil the heifers and weaners a bit - most are gone now - but the ones I am breeding are being spoiled."
Moving forward, Mr Poot's biggest aim is to assess the feed value of what is in the pasture and what is coming in and out of the gate.
THE Forrests were already using rotational grazing, but found Grazing Matcher helped them to focus on proper rotation.
Ms Forrest said they now had plenty of paddocks, which could access each other, allowing them to choose to follow a circuit while before the rotation was more instinctively.
She said they also started with a sacrificial paddock - something that hadn't been done onfarm before - to help other paddocks "get away".
"I think that would benefit the rest of the season and we are definitely going to do it again this autumn.
"We will be sticking to more of a solid plan and having the plan in place from the beginning."
The Forrests plan to continue feeding out of the sacrificial paddock, knowing they will reseed it.
Ms Forrest said networking was definitely one of the best parts of the program and having the opportunity to "pick other farmers' brains".
She said other plans were to use silage more and revisit their fencing plan to "get more bang for their buck".
"We have used it in the past, but we will look at whether or not we want to move more towards it," Ms Forrest said.
"And then if we do, whether or not we do our own processing and cutting - things like that.
"Then with our paddocks, we will look at making more but not actually putting a fence line in."
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