Clearer picture sought

Melissa WilliamsCountryman

Now in the third year of grazing oat, barley and canola crops on their Wandering farm, the Watts family plans to collect more accurate data about the number of grazing days provided for its sheep flock and the grain yield impact at harvest.

Andrew Watts and Sheryl Gallant operate four mixed livestock and cropping properties with Andrew's parents, Max and Virginia, and run 5000 Merino ewes, including 1000 mated to White Suffolk rams for prime lamb production.

A slight shift in emphasis to cropping about 10 per cent more of the property in recent years has prompted the family to devise strategies for more integrated sheep and crop management.

This led to a successful trial of grazing Wedgetail wheat, oats and vetch in 2010 and attendance at a Grain and Graze workshop last year to learn more about fine-tuning the crop grazing system.

A 20-hectare paddock of Wedgetail wheat last year supported 700 pregnant ewes for two weeks and a 48ha paddock of Gairdner barley was grazed with 500 pregnant ewes for two weeks, followed by another 700 pregnant ewes for two weeks. A paddock of Clearfield y44 canola then supported 500 lambing ewes for 10 days.

The Gairdner barley used for grazing was sown on May 12, emerged on May 27, provided four weeks of grazing and yielded 4.4 tonnes/ha at harvest.

"Livestock are an integral part of our operation, so it is valuable to be able to use crops to defer pastures for grazing so these paddocks are rested and provide quality and quantity feed later in the year, especially around weaning when sheep and lamb nutritional requirements are high," Andrew said.

He said supplementary feeding had been extended this year because of dry conditions in late May and June but could be cut out when sheep started grazing crops. This saved a significant amount of feed costs.

This season, pregnant ewes began grazing 600-700ha of Wandering oats, Gairdner barley and canola crops on the Watts' properties in mid-June and would lamb down into these paddocks during the winter months when pasture growth was slow. The crops would carry them through to lamb marking.

Oat and barley crops for grazing were sown in early May with 100kg/ha UniMap and 40kg potash and received 40-50kg/ha of post-emergent urea.

Andrew said dry and cold seasonal conditions in the past few weeks meant crop growth had slowed and he was fertilising grazing crops before introducing sheep, which seemed to be aiding crop recovery.

"We had a paddock of barley that received fertiliser prior to sheep going in, was grazed and a week after sheep were taken out it had grown four inches," he said.

Crops are cell grazed or stocked lightly to reduce the potential for mis-mothering at lambing.

Andrew said grazing had started when crops reached the two tiller stage and could not be twisted and pulled out of the ground.

The Watts are hosting a Department of Agriculture and Food WA and Grain and Graze trial site this year to investigate the number of grazing days provided by the crops and yield implications using yield mapping.

"In the past two seasons I don't think we have lost yield from grazing crops but this year we will more closely monitor and measure what's happening in the paddock," Andrew said.

He said weed control in the grazing crops was important and when spray grazing it was vital to check withholding periods when moving sheep around.

Andrew said there were benefits to the cropping enterprise from grazing, mostly in dealing with frost.

"Wandering, as many people know, can be very cold and is prone to frosts in winter," he said.

"Grazing the crops might just delay flowering time and push the crops out of the frost window."

Fast facts *

Who: Andrew Watts and Sheryl Gallant, children Ruby and Lily and Max and Virginia Watts

What: 5000 Merino ewes and cropping

Where: Wandering

Size: 2900ha

Rainfall: 550mm annual average

Pastures: Clover based

Soils: Variable, predominantly gravel and gravel loam

In the past two seasons I don't think we have lost yield from grazing crops but this year we will more closely monitor.

ANDREW WATTS

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