How we grow pasture.
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
I get quizzed a lot about how we can grow the pasture that we do. There is no secret to what we are doing. Firstly, we are blessed to live where it rains, summers are on the mild side, and the potential is very high. Based on rainfall, we can grow 24-26 tonnes/ha of pasture, and that is only for C3 plants (clover, ryegrass etc). Kikuyu is a C4, so it can produce even more biomass per mm of rain. The district where we currently farm produces 3-10t/ha/year.
Most people are not utilising the rainfall. Most people do not fix the biggest problem, and then the second one. Most people here think 400kg/ha of Urea will kill grass and are astonished that anyone would even think about doing such a thing.
As for all crop and pasture growth situations, you should fix the biggest limitation first. For us, that was a very acidic sub-soil. I fixed that with gusto and it will take a few more years for the lime to keep moving down the profile. Our pasture will improve every year and I don't need to add any more lime for maybe 10-years or more.
The second limitation was trace elements. Western Australian farming did not take-off until applications of copper, zinc and molybdenum began. Where we are, we need to add cobalt and selenium to that list as well. I fixed that with no hesitation.
Then because it was starving for phosphate, potassium and sulphur, I fixed that, and finally, nitrogen. As I point out to people when they come to visit the farm, I am disappointed with the pastures because there is so much more that could be grown, if I had enough sheep.
Grazing management is the next factor. For me, it is always pasture first, sheep/cows second.
We have pretty poor pastures at the moment. Undergrazing can be almost as negative as over-grazing, except the soil is not harmed by undergrazing. At the moment, we have so much dead and rotting bottom leaves it is like silage on the ground. It is going to waste. But undergrazing means the ryegrass matures earlier than it should, and is lower quality than it should be.
With proper grazing management, it would be greener longer here, the pasture would be of higher quality, the kikuyu and clover would thrive more, and most importantly, we would grow "more" pasture. Yep, that is correct. If we had more sheep here, we could grow more pasture for the reasons just outlined.
With more sheep, I would fertilise more often, which would grow more pasture so that we could carry more sheep and make more profits.
Growing pasture, like all ecosystems in nature, is complex. It is not one thing. When everything is starving and you get confused where to start to improve your pasture production, it is easy. Just fix the biggest limitation. Then the next one. As you fix one, the next limitation will become clearer. It is like climbing a ladder. Just start on the first rung. Don't try and jump three rungs at a time.
Pastures first, livestock second. Too many have it the other way around, and therefore you concentrate on reducing costs and hoping livestock prices rise. You are missing out the bit where you can "create wealth".
We have the rainfall and environment here. If I am only growing 5t/ha/year of pasture, and the potential is 25t/ha/year, I won't improve if I cut costs to pasture production. As I point out to everyone involved with our budgeting, there will be no cuts to pasture production. That is what enables the wealth to be created. It is the engine. Yet, consultants will keep advising to cut costs on pastures trying to squeeze out a profit. It is so overdue for this thinking to be turned on its head.
I look forward to the day when I can look at the pastures and say, I don't think we could have done it any better. However, there is always room for improvement. Better sheep and pasture genetics combined with better grazing management and nutriton will keep breaking records that we thought were impossible.
If you've not read my earlier blogs, our goal on this 185ha arable is 5,550 ewes producing >9,000 lambs/year. I think we can do better than that. Combine that with more scale (farms), we will make the shareholders very happy en route to our 10-year goal of producing > one million lambs/year.
One day I think I will restart my Pasture Acumen newsletter, but not until Caluka Farms has expanded and has excellent managers and staff assisting my vision. My aim is to get Caluka running without needing me. For now, please sign up to these blogs so that you get an email sent to you as soon as I publish a new blog.
Farming is not a recipe. However, the skills of growing pastures and crops and turning them into wealth creation providing food and jobs can be learnt so that we farm much better than we currently are. Agriculture has never been more exciting to be in. We have the most significant improvements yet to come. If you want to be a part of Caluka, come and see me on the farm and have a chat.