Investment reaps big benefits
Investing in a watering system for their whole property has given Craig and Woody Oliver of Dunkeld no cause for regret. It has, they say, been the key to making the whole grazing system work.
Craig and Woody run fine wool merino sheep, first cross lambs and Friesian bulls on their 930ha property. But back in the early 2000s, unreliable water from a local creek and small, unevenly scattered dams across the land were resulting in lower productivity.
Their carrying capacity was restricted to eight DSE compared to the potential 15 DSE.
"We had water in some spots, but none in others," Craig said. It was the limiting factor for developing an efficient grazing system.
Recognising the need for change
Craig and Woody looked at their farm layout of 11 large paddocks, each about 150 acres, and decided they wanted a system that would allow easier stock management of stock.
"We wanted smaller paddocks and laneways, so that we could get more efficient stock movement throughout the farm and better grazing management," Craig said.
They developed a farm plan to subdivide the red gum landscape into 72 paddocks ranging from 10 to 20 hectares and all linked by about 10 kilometres of laneways. The plan included creek fencing to reduce erosion and nutrient run-off.
This was the relatively easy part. They quickly realised that water was going to be their biggest problem in the new system. The Olivers needed to install more troughs, piping and a pumping system and develop a bigger, more reliable, central water supply.
Their timing was good; they dug a new six megalitre dam in a good catchment in 2004 before the drought really took hold.
"It took a good 18 months to fill, but then we had it when the drought came, which was invaluable," Craig said.
Water is pumped from the dam using a floating Airwell pump powered by an air compressor at the house and connected via an inground air line. The solenoid in the pump is run by a solar-powered battery and switched on and off by air pressure.
Two smaller dams about 2.5km from the house are also connected to the air compressor via in-ground air lines. While it is possible to pump directly to each of the troughs because of the flatness of the property, Craig prefers to pump to a header tank, particularly during hot weather, to ensure continuity of supply.
"The Airwell system gives you similar flow to a windmill. You're much better having a storage tank to make sure you've always got enough water to meet demand." Another plus for the system is the ease with which the pump can be moved, allowing for more flexibility in water management.
"During the drought, it let us aggregate all the water into one spot so that we could make better use of what was left."
Across the property water is delivered to 40 1200-litre concrete troughs through two inch piping. Individual lines can be turned off, or a bar can be put under the float to switch off troughs not in use.
Planning and working in stages
Craig and Woody planned their improvements through a whole farm plan then started to implement the priorities with the help of local contractors.
It took two years to get the whole vision finished but now running 12 DSE and finding the system easier and less time-consuming, they say it was definitely worth the wait.
With its efficient reticulation, the grazing system has led to better pasture management and quality improvement.
They also find it much more efficient to run, saving costs. "With every paddock linked by laneways we can move large numbers of stock to virtually anywhere on the property," Craig said.
"Woody and I can be both working in the woolshed at shearing time and we simply let the sheep out of the yards and they take themselves home."
Because there is better groundcover on paddocks and the creek has been fenced off, there is less run-off into waterways. The downside is less run-off into the dams, but because there is less soil getting washed off paddocks, particularly in the heavy summer falls, the dams are not silting up.
Apart from the solar battery panel for the pump needing to be replaced every couple of years, the system is almost maintenance-free and has not given any problems.
"It's been terrific. The only thing we'd change is that we'd have found the money to do it sooner," Craig says.