Full steam ahead at Hillcroft

Kate MatthewsCountryman

For the past two weeks seeding has been underway at Hillcroft Farms, north-west of Narrogin.

The property is owned and run by the Bradford family - Dawson, wife Greta and their son, Dawson, and wife Lisa - who are already a third of the way through seeding.

As well as a 2600-hectare cropping program and 700ha of pasture that has been re-sown, the Bradfords manage a 700-head sow breeding-to-finishing piggery, a 700-ewe pure Poll Dorset flock and stud, 1500 Hillcroft shedding ewes and stud ewes and 2800 commercial ewes of various degrees of shedding.

Helping the Bradfords are 10 full-time employees, two casuals and seven working dogs. Each part of the business, while offering diversification, also allows for value-adding.

The manure from the piggery is used to help fertilise paddocks close by, while straw from cereal crops is baled and used as bedding in the piggery. Most of the grain grown on the farm is used in the piggery.

The seeding program began on April 21, when 700ha of pasture, including ryegrass and a relatively new serradella cultivar, Eliza, were sown at 5-7kg/ha.

"Usually we clover harvest and spread the seed back out, but this year we have put in a lot of ryegrass and are trying serradella Eliza," Dawson said.

"We selected it because it has a short growing season. Hopefully we should get a good seed set and not be so reliant on the finish to boost carrying capacity."

The aim is to lift numbers from 10-12 dry sheep equivalent to 15 or 16 DSE.

The cultivar was released in WA only two years ago and this year, after being bulked up, has become commercially available. It flowers three weeks earlier than its parent, Cadiz, and suits areas with less than 400 mm of annual rainfall.

To seed the pasture paddocks, Dawson said they used a disc machine for the first time, pulled by a John Deere 8330.

"Using the tine machine, there is just too much soil disturbance when regenerating pastures," he said.

Last weekend they had 12mm and are hoping for an early germination.

The rest of the crops - 900ha of canola, 1200ha of oats and 500ha of barley - will be planted with a 50ft DBS tine bar pulled by a Challenger MT 855c with a nine-tonne bin.

Dawson said they were planting Canola Breeders Crusher as well as Hyola 404 Roundup Ready to help with weed problems.

"Our program is much the same as past years except we have a lot of canola going in to clean up the country after the last few years," he said.

"It's been pretty hard to try to control grasses here in the last two to three years. It's either been too wet or too dry or, as it was last year, the weeds just kept coming."

The Bradfords will also plant one barley variety, Hindmarsh, which is rated as feed, but no wheat this year because of the larger canola program. All the canola is grown for the pigs.

They also planted Carrolup and Wandering oats for grain and hay.

Fast facts *

Who: Bradford family, Hillcroft Farms

What: Mixed

Where: Narrogin

Rainfall: 457mm average

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