2019 conference presentations

Teamwork in a farm business

Greg and Jo Bear, from Loddon Vale in north central Victoria, outline what they did to make their farming business more profitable and how all the family partners of the work together harmoniously to achieve their goals and personal interests.

Teamwork in a farm business

Integrating technology in a sheep production system

Scott Nicholson, farmer and Nuffield scholar from Stawell Victoria, challenges the audience to understand what drives your (sheep) business profitability and then to find and integrate technology to enhance your business.

Scott: Oh, thank you, thank you very much. Yeah, thanks very much for inviting me here today to speak. It's a great opportunity to get in front of so many people and hopefully we can all make it worth your while. I've just got to work out how to use this thing, so I've got a couple of challenges before we start. I started writing this, and it kept getting longer and longer and longer. I've got half an hour, so we might have to get stuck into it and I apologise now if I have to flick through a few through the middle because I just want to make sure I get to my points at the end. And it's about 65 degrees in here, so hopefully everyone can stick with it, and I will be encouraging a bit of interactivity later.
Scott:Just go through it, yeah, so I'm not going to talk a lot today about what we do. I'm just going to talk more about the opportunities that are out there and what we need to do as business operators. I'm going to talk to us as a group today as all business people, whether you're service providers or farmers in general. So just before we start, can I get an indication everyone who actually farming at the moment, like producers, hands up? Yup. So other service providers, consultants? Agents? That's good, I can pay it on them later. They will get a bit later.

Scott: Farm is 20k's north of Stawell, Campbells Bridge, mixed farming, five and half thousand ewes, we're currently joining at the moment of which 50% of joined are Merinos and 50% of joined are White Suffolks. July, August lambing, so shearing at the moment and getting ready for lambing, alongside dry land cropping, hay production, the lamb finishing system to finish all the crossbreeding and Merino lambs. And also have a bit to do with a Merino startup Mamoo. So that's just a bit of a sideline. So back to the Nuffield. Currently doing my Nuffield scholarship thanks to AWI. I see there's a couple of representatives in the room today. And the topic I started out with was research ways technology can help modernise and improve profitability within the sheep industry. So as Jason said before, that's evolved a little bit as we went. And the current situation is I've done my global focus programme, travelled the world, seen a crazy amount of things in regards to farming in general and technology. I've seen the good, that's just an example of a high pressure processor.

Scott: It's taken that juice from a two day shelf life to a 32 day shelf life. That's something that could evolve into the meat industry. It's basically like putting something thousands of metres under the ocean just to basically make it air tight. I've seen some things that weren't so good. This was a 5,000 head goat dairy in the Netherlands, the guy owned two acres of land in the middle of town, milking 5,000 goats. And he even let us out at the back to have a look through his nursery and we want to talk lamb survival and things like that. And his goat survival was horrendous. But it's just things like that that ... All the stuff we saw wasn't good. And then I saw some questionable things. I think that one was in Chile. Yeah, still manually bagging potatoes because why would you want a machine to do that?

Scott: The big issues around the world that I've seen, ones that relate back to farming here, they're all the same wherever we go around the world at the moment. And the four I've put there is land prices continually on the move, water issues, availability, use sustainability of all that, cost of labour and having increasing cost of production all the time. So there are the four I've identified there. And then as far as the bigger issues go, we've got provenance, people want to know where our producers is coming from. They want to know a story behind it. And that's going to be more and more increasingly important going forward. Social licence, it's a massive one. If you haven't paid much attention to it, I think everyone in the room should start, because it's going to be a massive issue going forward.

Scott: And we don't necessarily have a right to farm going forward. We need to protect that and we need to do what we can to put ourselves on the front foot rather than wait till the activists come after us for different things. Customer, consumer, it's all about the customer. We produce whatever we produce, whatever we do, there's an end user. So just be mindful of that end user. And sustainability, everywhere I went I heard sustainability, sustainability, sustainability. But the question is, what is sustainability? And everyone I think has a different perception on what sustainability is. And I think it's important that you understand what your perception of sustainability is, but I think at the end of the day we need to make enough money so we can stay in the game.

Scott: The other four points I've got here is education versus trust. So in the whole social licence thing, sustainability, we hear a lot about education. I think it's going to be extremely difficult to educate people going forward. There's just too many of them in the big cities and around the world where we're going to be able to educate. So I think we need to really look to things that we can do to increase our level of trust between the customers and the consumers of the world and what we do. We don't need necessarily to explain everything we do and show everyone exactly why we do it and how we do it. But what we do need to do is develop a level of trust, which means that if you walk in the supermarket and buy tomato or buy anything else that has been produced on farm, that there's a certain level of trust that goes with that product, that they walk out being happy, that they're happy, that it's being treated well or we've done the right things as far as chemical goes, animal handling and all that sort of thing.

Scott: So I think it's the whole trust thing. And a lot of that's on us too. If we do the right things behind our farm gates, I think that'll fly through. And we just need to get rid of those bad eggs that have given us a bad name. So if you see anything that goes on or something's going on that you don't like, I think it's upon us a little bit to sort of set the bar a little bit higher than maybe then where it's currently set at the moment.

Scott: I've got social media there. I think we need to be very careful of social media. It's a massive thing these days, but I think we've just got to be careful of what we read and we don't believe everything that's on there. And also if we're going to post things on there, try and keep it calm and keep it sophisticated. And when we're posting other things on there, just be very aware of who's going to see it, why you're putting it there. And maybe there's sometimes where we shouldn't put things on there at all. Impossible burger that's here to stay in a lot of big chains. Beyond me another company that's doing the fake meat burgers so it's here to stay. It's going to be in all the big chains soon. So we need to get used to competing against that in the red meat industry.

Scott: And mulesing is another one, regardless of everyone's thoughts on mulesing, it's just definitely, it's an issue around the world. I heard time and time again, it's certainly an issue and we need to address it in some form. And the quicker we do that, the better off we're going to be. So back to the technology side of things. So when we look at AG-Tech, I've just put up there, is it a buzz word or does it have any substance? We'll just ... Can we get that one going? No, that's [inaudible 00:08:27]. Well, now it's going. Yup. So AG-Tech ... I've just put buzzword or any substance there. So what I mean by that is, we see a lot of stuff on AG-Tech, but is there any substance behind it and is there things that we can do or the tools that are out there for us to improve what we do. So I've said here, there's no silver bullet, we need to have a plan and we need to know what you want to achieve. You need to know what you want to do better.

Scott: It's critical that tech is developed for a need rather than someone who thinks they've just got great idea and the developers need to know what we want. So if you've got a good idea, you need to find an avenue to get that across to someone because they don't necessarily know what we want, if we're not good at telling them. Don't let the squeaky wheels of the world drive mainstream tech. I think we see a lot of industries that ... The minority complain about a lot of things and if they're the ones that drive those different programmes and technology, maybe they're not mainstream. So if you're happy with something, say you're happy with something. If you're not happy with something, say you're not happy with it, but give them reasons why. They're all fighting for the same pool of money. As producers we've only got a certain amount of money we can spend and they're all fighting over that stuff.

Scott:So if 20 AG-Tech producers think that we're going to come along and pay them a subscription or something like that. We're going to have to start making a hell of a lot more money or someone's going miss out. Just touching on that subscription based model. That seems to be the way a lot of the tech companies want to go. So just keep an eye on your credit card because we're going to wake up one day and we're going to be subscribed to 25 different things. And paying $30 a month for all those things and we might only be using two apps on our phone. And we're going to see a lot more in this space. And we're already starting to see a shift at the moment from the pre-gate. So the pre-harvest stuff to the post-harvest stuff. There's always been a movement away. People of the AG-Tech industry. I think there's a few people within it starting to get sick of farmers already because they don't think that they can make enough money out of us.

Scott: So they're shifting their focus to the sort of post-harvest stuff where they think there's maybe a bit more value. And that's just a diagram of all the different AG-Tech startups that there are around at the moment and AG-Funder suggested at the moment there's north of 1,600 at the moment. I'd be surprised of those 1,600 in the board if 10 or 20 of them become mainstream. So everyone is trying to sell you something. Just as I said on my earlier point, make sure you know what you want. So I've just said here, is it an awesome Christmas present or a valuable business tool. I think we get technology confused a lot of the time between something we want for Christmas or something the kids want, compared to something that can really add value to our business?

Scott: So I've just listed a few things there that I think ... The obvious ones we need to solve a problem, save time, needs to make money, improve accuracy or increased compliance or simply sometimes it can be just improving the ability to do something, or increasing the number of people who can do that task. So that might be just a shape handle that maybe it doesn't speed up things that might and save your money. But what it does is it allows someone else, older people, your parents to help you for longer or something like that. So I think it's important that we cover all those. Some of the technologies are looked at along the way, including virtual fencing, smart tags, robotic shearing, autonomous vehicles, remote monitoring, management software, EID, which we'll talk a bit about later. Sheep handling equipment, genomics, and yeah, DEXA I think has got a big future in the red meat industry. So we can touch on some of those a bit later if we get a bit of time.

Scott: So this has evolved ... I see farm management after travelling the world as probably the hardest job in the world. Honestly, one of the hardest jobs in the world. We need to evolve from the old traditional view that most people have farmers with a bit of straw in their mouth and a pitchfork to something like autonomous vehicles. That's a C DOT, I'm not sure if many, have you seen those around? Canadian made autonomous SEDA. So it's a basically a platform for autonomy. I think it's one of the coolest things in the world at the moment. And I think it will make it, I think it's got the characteristics behind a real success story.

Scott: So I've said it's not rain, it's not markets, it's you. As business operators it doesn't matter whether you're farmers here, you're running consultancy businesses, whatever else you do. You're in charge of what you do. And from a lot of benchmarking stuff, it's the people that change the numbers. It's not what you do, it's how you do it. So it's very important that we come to understand quickly that it's what we do, drives how good our business is. We tend to blame a lot of other things we can say, "Oh it doesn't rain, it's a drought, the markets are no good and all that." But in any set of data, there's people that are doing well under the same circumstances. So let's make sure we're one of those.

Scott: So in the whole process of the Nuffield thing have evolved to putting businesses first and then technology second. So I think we need to get our businesses right and it goes back to a lot of what we saw with Greg and Jo speaking this morning. They've covered a lot of those points, which I'll probably go over some of them again, but it just shows like Paul said that maybe we need to hear it two or three times. So if we can hear it two or three times here today, does that mean you're going to go home and do it? I hope so, because it is the business side of things that we need to get right and it's something that I think a lot of people don't get right because they focus on the production side of things.

Scott: So it's all about profit. It's simple as that. It's all about making money and we need profit in our system to do things. So we need to make profit and then use it to create wealth. There's no good in investing in depreciating assets and things like that. We need to use as the profit we make. I believe profit equals lifestyle. People say money doesn't create happiness and lifestyle, but I think it goes a long way. It certainly makes things a lot easier if we've got the money to do what we need to do and profit also gives us sustainability. Both in the fact that we're sustainable going forward. So if we're making money, we're in the game ... The next generation can come along if they so wish. And if we're making profit, it also gives us the ability to spend money on other areas of our farm, which increased our sustainability and that can be environmental things. It can be managing water wise, it can be planting trees. But if we don't have money, we can't do any of those other things.

Scott: So I've just got a few points to run through here that I've just had a bit of a checklist of what I think the good businesses that I've seen do and do well. And I've put this one up the front because I think it's imperative that we think about this one. So I've just said farmers today need to capitalise and make money at other people's expenses and we need to plan for this going forward. Invest in areas which allow us to take advantage of someone else before they take advantage of us. Some people might say that's a bit harsh, but the reality of it is, is that we only get certain opportunities a year to make money and we need to capitalise on those opportunities we get. And make money while we can.

Scott: So a couple of examples. So this is the hay market at the moment. People that were lucky enough to be providers of hay are doing extremely well that are doing so. And lambs. Anyone who's giving themselves the ability to put lambs in the market now, being extremely well rewarded for it. But that just doesn't happen, that comes through ... And yeah, you could also argue that the people that are selling lambs now are taking advantage of the prices and the people that are selling hay are taking advantage of the people in drought conditions. But reality is that the people who are in those positions have given themselves a business that gives themselves the ability to do that. So you need to plan your business direction.

Scott: Another thing that Greg and Jo explained really well today, and I think they summed it up perfectly today, is you know need to know where you're going, need to know where you want to be. And we need to look longer term. I think some of the best things that I've done since I come home onto the farm is do business courses, not so much farming courses. It's the business side of things we need to get right. And I don't think of seeing Ken Solly in the room today ... Ken not here, no. I saw Ken Solly, many of you would know, I saw him speak at a business forum in Adelaide or saw him speak at the Birchip cropping group, and I saw him speak here all within about six or eight months of each other. So yeah, basically over a year. I heard him three times and probably the one person that changed the way I look at our farm.

Scott: So maybe that whole thing is true that we need to hear it two or three times, but it certainly, some of the points that he raised with me really hit home and showed that we really need to plan where we're going, going forward. And then priorities and relationships. First and foremost, we need to look after our family. We need to create relationships that both people win. I'll just put the little diagram up there. If you've got an idea, someone might pay for it. Certainly beats the old heads I win, tails you lose scenario. So we need to remember that everyone along the line needs to make money. We need to understand what drives your business performance and understand what those profit drivers are. And at the end of the day, if you're the farm business manager, it's on you to actually make the decisions. I don't think a lot of the time it's about whether we get those decisions right and wrong all the time. It's about making the decision and making that call when it needs to be made.

Scott: I've just got an example there where we were in the Netherlands. How do you choose, it's pretty hard to choose. Mine got a flat tyre on the way home. So was it a bad decision or was it just bad luck? I'd argue that, "Hey, it was all meant to know so it was just bad luck." We need to prioritise the important decisions and that runs on from the other one I've just said, "You might only get 10 really big decisions a year." So of those we need to make sure we get more right than wrong. I think probably 70% a good enough number. If we get seven out of those 10 big decisions right, we'll be okay but if we only get 50% we might as well just be guessing and flipping a coin.

Scott:Just because you say others do it doesn't mean it's a good idea. And I think if we always let the older generation teach us how to farm, we're going to farm like the past, so we know to use them wherever we can to evolve. But we've got to be careful that we're on our front foot enough to make sure that we can take on new things and do things. Because if we only let the older generation teach us we're never going to be able to go forward. It's on you, it's just basically if you make the decision, you take the responsibility, you own your decisions. Risk just the basic one, take risks when you can, avoid them when you can't. Enjoy the wins I think we're pretty bad as farmers. We're pretty critical when things go bad and we blind markets and all that sort of jazz. But at the end of the day we've got to enjoy things when things are going well. Because things don't always go that well.
Scott:Think optimal, not biggest, best or most. So when we think about what we're producing, most people want to think about the biggest yield per hectare, biggest wool cut per head, they want the best looking sheep. But ask yourself, is that best for financial performance? So I'd argue you should be looking at what's my best gross margin per hectare, what is my woolclip per hectare and what's your most efficient sheep that I can produce to give me the most profit at the end of the day? So I've just got an example there of farmer A and farmer B where we've got to be careful of benchmarking and things like that. I'll flip through this one pretty quick, but there's just an example there of you could be in the top 20% of four different categories compared to someone, the farmer B who's only in the top 20% of nothing.

Scott:But you put them in the top 20% of stocking and all of a sudden this guy's margin per hectare comes out on top. So we've just got to be careful of those little things. And we need to benchmark against their financial performance as well as their individual stuff.

Scott:Leadership and personality styles. Greg and Jo touched on this one for me, so I won't spend too much time on this one. You need to know who you're dealing with. And a good example of that is if you ... Personality, everyone's got basically it could be categorised into one of these boxes. So know your personality type.

Scott:And if you're a type B and you're going to a meeting with a type D, don't be late. Because they're routine driven, they want you to be there five minutes early. If you're a type A dealing with a type C, don't ring them up out of the blue and say, "Oh, can I have $100,000 to go and buy something, send them an email. Give them the heads up about what you want to do because they process things differently." So if you understand who you're dealing with, you'll get a better response out of them. And if you're a type C and you're smart enough to go to a type A and say, "Give me a hundred grand and I'm going to say, "Yeah, no worries, that'd be great." And they don't have time to process it because they think on their feet a lot more.

Scott:We'll skip through that one. Simple thing. Tidy farms, tidy books, most of the good farms you go to look good. Financial reality. Let's not dwell on the things we didn't get. It's not a good sign. Now I should have hung onto those lambs for another three weeks and I could've got $300. If you sold them for $250 you probably did okay. You made money, things are okay. Tax is a necessary evil. If we want to create wealth, we need to pay tax. But just be careful where we get our information from. We just got to be careful who we take our advice from.

Scott:I'll just flick through a couple these I'm starting to run out of time. So back to the technology. This is just a bit of a bell curve on the technology process. So I think if we look at the curve, I think we want to be in that early adopters category or bordering on the early majority. We still need people that want to be the innovators and want to adapt and want to grab that new technology. But it can be an very expensive place to operate, because you end up buying 10 things and now using one. Whereas if we can get on that early majority, early adopters lawn, we can sort of get things that we've seen other people use.

Scott:Here are a few success stories, failures, things like that. Decide between the 10 and hopefully get the one or two that hang around. So on-farm. So getting back to the on-farm bit. What I hope we can get going here is it's just the old scenario of the low hanging fruit. There's so many farms that have got so much low hanging fruit that they need to grab first. So I've just started right at this. I've got one star, three star and four star. One star's what I would expect everyone to be doing, three stars where I'd like to think most people can go home and get done. And then the five star stuff is where I see the really top end producers want to be. So we need to get our pastures right. It's talking right. It's not good if we're just not running enough stock or too many stock.

Scott:We need to check your laming date and make sure we're lambing at the right time and give it some serious thought. I've heard too many people tell me why they lamb and I just lamb because I do. Give it some serious thought and if you do nothing else when you go home, go home and give your lambing date some serious thought for next year. We need to make sure our fences are right. Water, we want water in every paddock, every season. Yard sheds, get our flock structure right and ensure we understand their energy and protein requirements, it's the stock. And managing our parasites properly and use drench testing. So that's what I say is as a base list. So if you're a producer that's not covering all of them, that's what I think you should be aspiring to before you worry about anything else.

Scott:Into the next one. It's you're joining side of things. So get your joining right. Make sure you've got lambs inside them. Protein priming, make sure you use it going forward at joining. Practise, we heard Paul talk about that and how important it is, but we must win there. I think the days are gone where we can afford just to be wasting our time wet and drying.

Scott:If you want to wet and dry, just make a donation to the local charity, give them a bit of money. The footy club, you feel like you're doing some better. Separate your twins and manage them. It's not good to protest if you're not going to do something with them. It's no good just putting your twins in one mob and your singles in another. Identify your dry ewes at weaning, one chance at best. Run using management groups, not necessarily age. Everyone should have the ability to finish their lambs if they so choose. So we need to get a finishing system that means you don't have to sell to someone else if things aren't right. So you need feeding systems for grain, crops, things like that. So you can cover your bases if you want to hang on to them. And most people these days I believe should have stock containment areas whether they use them or not. They're not very hard to build, but they just give us a lot of options going forward and we're going to see more and more people utilise them.

Scott:And we should all have adequate supplies for at least one year. At a minimum, we need to be able to cover yourself for one year if not two. And we need to be looking towards more and more condition scoring. Then the five star one I'll click through pretty quick. That's just the next sort of stage that I see. The really good operators that are going to start to focus on. So back to EID, I assume most people in the room are from Victoria. So we've all got electronic tags. So where do I start? They've made us put them in. It's a terrible thing they made us do, they even made them cost neutral so we didn't have to pay much. But there's a lot of people that haven't come to terms with that yet. So I think we need to get over that. We've got them now, so why don't we see what sort of benefit we can get from them. And it just surprises me that there's been so much negativity around something that's cost us no extra to use.

Scott:So there's going to be teething problems, they're going to have [inaudible 00:28:52] issues. The hook system is not going to work right in the abattoirs for a while. But we've got to look forward and it's going to be a great system when we can work out everyone in the supply chain using it. I think agents need to do more. They need to work with the abattoirs and all those people along the supply chain to ensure that we can get the feedback that we need. And I'd hate to admit it in front of Paul, but New Zealand does things so much better than what we do over here. And especially in regard to carcass feedback and processing things. And I think our agency system needs to evolve a little bit to move from your manual drafting systems and guessing lights to knowing lights and trying to get us that feedback that we deserve.

Scott:And I think I've put there carcass feedback versus ASBVs, we see so much stuff about ASBVs and breeding values and we do all this work in regard to what we want to breed and while we want to breed it, but we don't get the feedback back in a good enough form to know whether it's working or not. So I think we need to focus on getting the feedback right to know what we produce and know where we can improve and that'll tell us where to get our ASBVs and where we should be going for rams and things like that.

Scott:And if we start the collection process now of all this information. When the whole  tag, so the people that started two years ago, have got lambs awareness tags and one and a half year old use. If you start that collection process on them now is a bit of a practise. By the time you've got your whole flock tagged, there'll be systems available to manage that data much, much better. So I say the minimum you should have on every farm at the moment, whether you own it yourself, whether you share it from someone else or whether you use an agent that can provide that service for you is a manual weight crate, some sort of scale head, a stick reader. And then you need access to a computer with Excel to manage some data to a point. That's a bare minimum. And all that probably $6,000.

Scott:So I think with the lamb job, the way it is at the moment and the wool job, we should be able to afford that within our system. So if you can't afford that on your own, go out with someone else and split the costs a little bit because we need to know what we're doing and we need to start that process now. So on the data collection side, the areas where we need to start collecting data now so we are ahead of the game. And I'll put this as you learn applied. So just record what ewes went to what rams, and the source of those rams, lambs from what mob at marking time. So just record your tag numbers you used in that mob. Making new joining weights so you can build up a bank of data in regard to where they are at for different ewes.
Scott:Preg test data, identify your dry ewes at lamb marking, monitor lamb and weaner growth. And a lot of this is not going to seem that useful to you at the time. But once you've got a bank of information, it'll all make sense. Lamb sale weights, which then can lead to individual carcass weights, dressing percentages and we can monitor our growth rates and feed types if we've got them on crops or in feedlots. And simple thing like a drench resistance tests now with electronic tags. It's just such a simple process. I just scan them in, drenching with the 10 different things and bring them back in a couple of weeks time. And also just record that data gives you the scales gives you the ability to save yourself money on something like drenching and backlining and getting your weights right.

Scott: So the stage two of our paper, once we've got all those learner things right, condition scoring, fleece weighing, lamb weaning weights, joining. So if we could record the weighs in and the weights out of the rams, that gives us an idea where our ewes are going during that joining period. And then lamb sale weights, which then we can trace back to where they came from and where maybe those rams came from or which rams they were. And as I said before if we start, we'll be a head going forward. And then we've accumulated this data and then we can work out how to use it. So going forward, if we had a five year old mob of ewes, you might want to keep half of them. So it be simple management tools around shortly that will enable you to go in and say, "I want to only keep those ewes that have scanned twins twice in their life, never been dry and been conditioned score two and a half at joining or more for three joinings. Stick them in your ... Doesn't even have to be an auto draught.

Scott: Just stick them in your manual crate, it'll spit out which ones you want. So that's where the money's to be made in the EID system. So I'd say when you go home, I think everyone in this room, and I'm assuming we've probably got the better operators in the room, needs to aspire to at least get three stars on your management and your learner plates on your EID. I don't think it's too much to ask and you don't need to do all of those things. But we just need to make sure we're doing something. And I've just put at the end here, I think it's imperative that we don't just stand here all day today and listen to people talk about things. Is that we go home and do something. So I've said there, sometimes you just need to stop acquiring knowledge and start doing.

Scott: And that's what it comes down to at the end of the day, is that we can all be that little bit better. We can all do that little bit better, but we need to actually go home now and make some form of action. So just on finishing ... May I have a couple of more minutes. I'm done. Yeah, right. Totally. Yeah, no, thank you. I'll leave that last one alone.

Risk versus reward

Cam Nicholson challenges the audience on balancing reward and risk 3 - you can’t have one without the other.

Cam Nicholson:What I want to talk about is some stuff around risk that evolved out of the Grain and Graze programme many years ago. For the first five years we spent a lot of time, a lot of money, a lot of effort, trying to work out what was the optimal mix of crop and livestock in a farming business.

Cam Nicholson:And at the end of five years, and $7 million, the answer was, it depends of what that right balance was. And when we said, "What's it really depend on?" The number one thing people said was, "How much risk you wanted to take on." And so we thought, "Well, if it's risk, how do we actually convey risk? How well do we talk about risk and actually present risk in some of the information that we provide?" And the answer was, pretty poorly. So where we ended up was saying, "How can we do something better?" So what I'm going to show you is where that's evolved to in the last 10 years or so.

Cam Nicholson:First of all, I just want to do a quick exercise with you about analysing risk. I want to show you these two examples, and I'll use the right-hand one here, or your left-hand one, my right-hand one. I've got an area with a hundred hectares of barley, average yield is three tonne a hectare, and a price of 250 bucks a tonne, which gives me a gross income of $75,000. But costs are at $400 a hectare, so that'd be $40,000 in total. Net income of $35,000 or 350 bucks a hectare.

Cam Nicholson:Okay? All pretty straightforward. Everybody will have seen lots of gross margins like that before, I'm sure. Equivalent to that, and I'll go to this one this time, is if we're looking at wool, we've got equivalent a hundred hectares. We cut 30 kilos of clean wool at $12.40 a kilo. We've got sheep sales of $10,000, if you do the sums on that, our gross income is 47,200, at costs of 220 bucks or 22,000, at income 25,200 or 252. Which one of those got the higher gross margin? Sing it out.

Speaker 2:Barley.

Cam Nicholson:Which one, okay? Not a trick question. Okay. Barley's got the higher gross margin. Which one's got the higher risk?


Cam Nicholson:How do you tell that from those numbers?

Speaker  3:[inaudible 00:02:09]

Cam Nicholson:Okay. Depends where you live. Okay. But people said, "Barley." So for some reason they've chosen barley. Why? So you've been farming for a long time. Tell me a bit more? What tells you out of those numbers that barley's riskier than sheep?

Male:[inaudible 00:02:23]

Cam Nicholson:Okay, your costs. Okay, so someone said, "Costs." You actually spend $40,000 and you spend that generally up front before you harvest. Yeah. Okay, so the cost's structures are different. What else?

Male:Well, price structure.

Cam Nicholson:Price structures. What about the price structures?

Male:[inaudible 00:02:40]

Cam Nicholson:Okay, so the variability. So I've used an average of 250 bucks a tonne for that, or $12.40 for the price for wool. That's right, the variability in the price of barley is greater than the variability or volatility in wool? Anything else?

Male:[inaudible 00:02:55] in rainfall.

Cam Nicholson:You can't buy in rainfall. Okay? So as long as your sheep don't die, they're probably going to give some income, where your crop potentially could give you nothing. Anything else? There's one other in the wool one that stands out to me. Two streams here. So if the wool price isn't all that good, the meat price might be all right, and vice versa. So you've got two income streams.

Cam Nicholson:Okay. So there's a lot you could tell me about that, a) just using just average values, the single value, and it's because of the intuition you've got around risk. Okay? And the first thing that we learned is that most people do their analysis based on their gut feel, not by the numbers, not by the calculations, but what you know and what you've learned over time and what your experience has told you. And that's pretty useful. Okay? Because most of you, if you didn't manage risk to some extent, you wouldn't still be farming. Okay? You would've been out the back door.

Cam Nicholson:So what I'm going to show you in the new information, if you like, that we've put on top of this, is adding to what you're already do, not replacing it. Okay? It just adds another dimension to it. A few things just to define what risk is. It's derived from the Italian word called, [Italian 00:04:04], which means to dare.

Cam Nicholson:Now I reckon most of you, if you think about risk, you think about what can go wrong. You can think about the downside, "There's a risk to that because I could lose money or this could happen that's bad." Okay? I want you to think about risk having a downside and an upside. Okay?

Cam Nicholson:So this idea and the title of the talk about Risk versus Reward, is what we've got to keep in mind. How much risk am I going to take on the chase to chase how much reward? We need to be able to understand that if we fully want to manage and make choices around risk.

Cam Nicholson:Secondly, there's no reward without risk. Risk is a necessary part of making returns. In fact, in agriculture, we're in the riskiest game in town. There was some work done by the Australian Farm Institute and said, "By value of production, Australian agriculture is the most volatile of any of the sectors in the Australian economy." So forget about the volatility on the share market and all that sort of stuff, agriculture is the highest.

Cam Nicholson:Around the world, Australian is the highest agriculture of any agricultural system around the world, as far as that volatility goes. So basically, we're playing the riskiest game in town. So we really need to understand this stuff a bit better, I reckon if we really want to manage risk well.

Cam Nicholson:But you know, people have asked me to do talks on minimising risk, and I said, "Yeah, if you want to minimise risk don't go farming." Okay? Because if you want to get out of that game and have to deal with that volatility in that bouncing up and down, then farming's not the game to be in, because that's the nature of the beast.

Cam Nicholson:The definition of risk is, likelihood x consequence. So it's actually got two parts to it. So when I want to talk about risk and we're making comments about risk, we need to know two things. We need to know the likelihood or the odds, what are the chances of these things happening, and we need to know the value associated with that chance.

Cam Nicholson:So if it was lambing, what are the chances of getting an 80% lambing? What are the chances of getting 100%? What are the chances of getting 150% lambing? Okay? Because that starts to put risk around lambing and lambing percentages. Okay? So just keep that in mind as we move forward.

Cam Nicholson:A couple of other things quickly. Risk lies in the extremes, not in the averages. And if you think about it, imagine if you got average yields each year, you got average prices, and you knew what your costs were going to be every year, how much risk would there be in farming? Bugger all. Okay? Because it's all highly predictable. We know what we're going to get every year and that's what you get.

Cam Nicholson:I reckon some of you wouldn't go farming if it was that predictable. I reckon part of what we like is actually the fun or the challenge of being able to deal with those variabilities and making choices that way. I just reckon that inherent in what we do in farming. Okay? But it lies in the extremes, not the averages. And how much stuff would you see and get presented to you that's about the average?

Cam Nicholson:Average tells you nothing about risk. And I think Paul may have alluded to that in his talk earlier today. There's no right or wrong position on risk. It's what you're prepared to live with. Okay? So one person could see a business has got a certain level of risk in it and say, "Yeah, I'm happy I can sleep at night, I'm comfortable with that." Someone else would look at that and would go, "No, too risky for me. Don't want to be in the game."

Cam Nicholson:Both of those answers are right. Okay? There is no perfect position on risk, it's what you can live with. So I say to my clients when we do this type of analysis, "Can you sleep at night with these results?" And if they're comfortable and happy with it, then that's the right result.

Cam Nicholson:And the last one, decisions around risk change based on the circumstance and based on the odds. So the decision you will make will change depending on what the odds are like. I'm just going to test that with you. Quick quiz. You're a farmer and you're running a particular livestock operation. Your farm operating profit, so that's your gross income less your variable costs, your overhead costs and your labour costs this year was $200,000, okay? So just think of it in simple terms, you made $200,000.

Cam Nicholson:Next year you've got the choice, it can keep the same enterprise mix and you get a certain farm operating profit of 200,000, or you can change it. If you make a change, the odds then go that you've got a 50% chance of getting $400,000, and you've got a 50% chance of getting nothing, okay?

Cam Nicholson:Now, we're not going to overthink this, I'm only giving you two choices, okay? So they're the two. Okay? Two choices. Same enterprise mix, 200,000, change enterprise mix, 50% chance of 400, 50% chance of zero. So you've got A and B, which ones do you choose? Put your hand up if you choose A. Okay, majority. Put your hand up if you choose B. Okay, a few people choose B.

Cam Nicholson:Okay, so straight away just in that simple choice between the two, because in the long run, don't they work out exactly the same? It depends when the mistakes come in or whether you get the zero or the 400 is part of the gamble that you're taking. Okay.

Cam Nicholson:But for people that are on A, if you chose A, which meant that you'd rather stick to that certainty of that 200,000, I'm going to change the odds a bit, you've now got a 60% chance of 200,000, and you've got a 40% chance of nothing. Who would change? All right. What if the odds were 70/30? 70% chance of 400,000, 30% chance of zero? Okay, a few more would change.

Cam Nicholson:All right, [inaudible 00:09:45] so you've got a 90% chance. Okay? So you've got a nine out of 10 to get it. Okay? So what's the message out of this? Take home message is that as the odds change, so in this case here, when we've gone from 60% to 70%, to 90%, your decision has changed. The choice you make has changed as the odds have changed because you're factoring in your inherent belief about how much risk you want to take on. Okay?

Cam Nicholson:So if we're talking about risk because these statements, whoops, these statements are risk statements. What are the chances of getting in this? What are the chances of getting this? Remember, risk is likelihood x consequence. The likelihood is the odds, the 60% chance, the consequences is the 400,000 or the zero. Okay? So the stuff I'm going to present to you now all talks about it in these sort of terms.

Cam Nicholson:Couple of other useful concepts in managing risk. One of them is, understanding volatility, which I alluded to, and you already said that to me when I put up that first slide about barley and you said, "Oh, the price of barley's more volatile, the yield could be more volatile," and so on. So understanding volatility's a key one.

Cam Nicholson:Second one is, understanding correlations, and correlations means if we've got two different enterprises, how closely do they follow each other in rising up and down, both related to yield and related to the price you get for them? Because if we want to manage risk, you don't want to put all your eggs in one basket, or you may want to and want to go on a hell of a ride, or you may want to have two different things that when one's up, the other one might be down, and one hedges the other one. So we need to understand how correlated some of the things that we're doing in our farm operation are.

Cam Nicholson:The third one is to think a bit about diversification. And I'll come back to this third one because it's got both pros and cons to it. Okay? So they're the three.

Cam Nicholson:Let's start off with volatility. Most people would be familiar probably with the shape of the orange graph. So this is pasture growth over a season. Typical for our part of the world in Southwest Victoria, when we get the break, we grow a bit of grass, it slows down a bit in the middle of the winter, and then we get this peak in springtime. Okay?

Cam Nicholson:Most people would be familiar with a graph of that sort of shape. All I've put on there is for that same pasture, if we had the worst 10% of growth historically, it looks like the red line. If we got the best 10% of growth, so if you like, one year in 10 sort of growth, we get the blue line.

Cam Nicholson:There's a lot of volatility in that. Okay? So basically our pastoral production system has got a lot of volatility in it. If I put the animal demand over that, which is the black line, typically for a mixed farming operation running about 18, 20 DSE, that's what the black line looks like. The black line, very flat. Even though we think we're changing animal demand, it's still pretty flat. The volatility is really in the pasture growth.

Cam Nicholson:But even within the pasture growth there are risky times and there are not so risky times, and I'd put it to you, there is not a risky time because there isn't a lot of volatility in it. It's basically low. If I get my best one year in 10 or my worst one year in 10, I still don't grow very much.

Cam Nicholson:Right, best one year in 10 in springtime is vastly different to my best or worst one year in 10 in springtime. So my risk is in autumn at that break, at this point here, and my risk is ... that's it, around there because of the separation of those lines. When we start trying to build risk management into what I always look for first of all, where have I got a stable base or low risk to build from? That's my starting point, and I build from that and then I take a punt into the high risk areas.

Cam Nicholson:Moving on a little bit more, if we want to quantify this risk, I reckon there's two or three steps to it. One is identifying what those risks are. The second one is being able to frame the odds. And so, all framing the odds means is basically coming up with an opinion about a particular set of results. Okay? What do you actually think the odds are of different results occurring? So I call them, framing the odds. It's what bookies do all the time. Okay?

Cam Nicholson:If you want to have a bet, and they'll give you odds, they're framing the odds. They're looking at what are the chances of different results coming? And as someone said to me, "If you look in the bookie's car park, they generally have much better cars than the punters do." Because they know how to frame the odds to make sure that in the long run they're actually going to come out on top. Okay?

Cam Nicholson:So how do you frame these odds? How do you put those odds together? Well you can use things called, form guides, which is historic information. Does anybody go to the races? A few people go to the races. My wife loves going to the races. We go a couple of times a year. Always send me down to the newsagents to buy a little book called, Best Bets. You may have heard of Best Bets, or seen it in the newsagents.

Cam Nicholson:It's a book and it's got a whole lot of historic information about the horses that are running, are going to be running that day. Tells you how many races they've won on wet track, dry track, what the jockey was, what distance they ran over, what barrier they started from. There's a whole lot of historic information.

Cam Nicholson:You can use that historic information to start to think about, "What do I think the future might be based on what history has told us?" So if in a race, every horse loves a dry track, bar one, and it's pouring down with rain, I'm probably going to look at that and go, "Well the odds are that it's pouring down with rain, the one that runs well in the wet is probably going to be the one that's going to have shorter roads or would be a better one to back, than one that only likes running on dry track and is hopeless in the wet." It doesn't guarantee that's what the future will be like, but it can give you some pretty good information on that.

Cam Nicholson:So if we look for these form guides and really all they are, are good and bad outcomes in the circumstances in which they occurred. We've got lots of information. You've got lots of form guides sitting in your head, sitting in your filing cabinets at home, heaps of that sort of information. You've got real data, you know the yield you got last year, you know the lambing percentage you've got under certain circumstances. You know the lambing percentage that you got under really good circumstances. Okay? So you've got a whole lot of this information.

Cam Nicholson:We can also do computer models to do this sort of stuff, or in a lot of cases you can guess, and I can tell you your guesses are pretty good. Okay? So if I asked anybody to frame the odds around some of the risky variables you've got new business, I bet you'd be able to come up with some pretty good ones. You actually know a lot of this stuff which we don't transfer it and put it down on paper and use it in a way in risk management.

Cam Nicholson:Let's have a think about how we might present this. So the information, and Paul actually put a similar graph up to this. This is the way if we want to represent risk around some of the risky variables in our business, this is a great way of presenting it. Along the bottom here is the value, and up here is the frequency or how often something occurs. So we create these things called, frequency histograms, and they're basically a risk graph.

Cam Nicholson:We can do that for prices. Has anybody seen this site, website before? No? Not many. Okay. We put this together in the Grain and Graze programme. It's weekly prices for a whole lot of commodities, so wool, meat, grains, hay, goats, live export, a whole lot of stuff, weekly, back to about year 2000. That's the forum guide. This is the price form guide that we use, because it gives us a good understanding of how price volatility is in the commodities that we're working with.

Cam Nicholson:So all you do, it's a free one, just go on the Grain and Graze website, and you can open this one up. Up here you pick the type of commodity. So it's got all those different commodities in it, and you've got different locations. We CPI adjust it because a hundred dollars, 15 years ago is different value to a hundred dollars today. So we adjust that up.

Cam Nicholson:When you generate the graph you can get things like that. So I've just pulled up 18 micron wool, and you can see the volatility based on today's dollars of 18 micron wool since 2001 up to about the end of 2018, okay? So there's a bit of a rollercoaster ride in that.

Cam Nicholson:But what I really want to know is how often I get certain results or certain values? So we turn that into these price histograms that I was talking about. So this is the price histogram for 18 micron wool. Okay? So along the bottom is the price that we got. So that says, "Dollars," but that should actually be cents, along the bottom there. And this is the frequency of how often it occurs. The black line is the mean or the average. What do you notice about that graph? There's a lot of variation. Yeah, there certainly is. So it's spread out between low prices and fairly high prices up there. Anything else?

Male:It's skewed to the left.

Cam Nicholson:It's skewed to the left. Okay? So the average price, if you added all those numbers up, the average price is not the most frequent price we get, but how often do we use the average to do our calculations? We're putting average in there, it's not the most frequent thing. It's not something we're going to experience the most often.

Cam Nicholson:In fact, this is skewed very far to the left where the most frequent result is a fair bit below what the average is. And I can tell you, long run, doesn't matter what commodity it is, the shape's the same. It doesn't matter if it's wool, doesn't matter if it's meat, doesn't matter if it's grain, it's the same shape. Okay?

Cam Nicholson:So I reckon when we do something about budgets, and what I do now with my clients is if I can make it work on the most frequent price, it stacks up nicely on the most frequent price, then that takes a fair bit of risk out of it because that's the one we're going to experience most often. And if we get the average, we get a bonus. Okay? And all commodities do like that. What do you reckon it runs up really high at this end? Yeah, it doesn't happen very often, but why did the price go so high?

Male:Outlying events.

Cam Nicholson:Outlying events. Tell us a bit more. Two people want it and they keep competing against each other until one person gets it. Why doesn't it do the same? Why doesn't it taper off down this end?

Male:[inaudible 00:20:16]

Cam Nicholson:Can't have a negative price. True. What do you reckon hay would do, if I was offered, the sale was 800 cents a kilo, what would you do with it?

Female:Hang onto it.

Cam Nicholson:Hang onto it. Okay? Or someone speculates at 800 and thinks, "I'll store that for a while and I'll put it on the market when it comes up here." So that's why they're not evenly distributed. You've got competition at one end. At the other end, people refuse to sell. Okay? But I can tell you, it doesn't matter what commodity I would have pulled up there, every commodity's the same.

Cam Nicholson:That's 18 to 24 carcass weight, sheep, okay? Same sort of thing. So if we keep using the average or think the average is actually meaning something, it does mean something, just means every of all those numbers, it doesn't actually tell you what the most frequent is or where the risk lies in it. So this allows us through calculations to work out how often do we get, in this case here, 88 cents a kilo carcass weight? We can work out the odds of that happening based on historic information, which is your form guide. Okay?

Cam Nicholson:Second one I want to talk about was correlations. And I talked about this idea of don't put all your eggs in one basket. Of those two commodities, so correlations, we can do a mathematical correlation on those, on two bits of information. In this case here we can look at how closely related is 18 micron wool price to that cheap price.

Cam Nicholson:If something's very strongly correlated, it gets a score, a mathematical calculation close to one. Okay? Which basically means when one goes up, the other one goes up virtually in sync with each other, so they follow each other price wise. If it's zero, there's absolutely no correlation. One could go up and down, the other one could go up and down, there's no direct relationship.

Cam Nicholson:You can also have negative correlations, if the price of one thing goes up, the other one goes down. We sell our steers into a feedlot at Glen Innes on the New South Wales, Queensland border. There is a strong negative correlation between the price of the feed that the feedlot uses and the price they'll pay us for the steers. That makes perfect sense, if they've got to pay a lot of money for feed, they're not going to want to offer as much for those animals going in.

Cam Nicholson:Of those two commodities I showed you before, what do you reckon the correlation might be? Do you reckon there'd be a strong correlation? That's what it looks like. So on that price guide you can pull up any two commodities and look at the correlation, and basically the r value on that's pretty low. Okay?

Cam Nicholson:And you could see the way that scattered. If there was a strong relationship as one went up, the other one would go up and all those dots would be pretty close together. But there isn't much. So having meat sheep that you're selling or sheep that you're selling for meat and wool, historically aren't overly correlated, which means one could be up when the other one's down. Okay?

Cam Nicholson:Useful to have a play on that website to actually understand the commodities you've got and just how closely correlated they are because it can be useful. If you want to manage risk in it, sometimes you want to have enterprises or commodities that you're producing that aren't price correlated because that helps hedge your bets.

Cam Nicholson:Okay. Want to move on to the last bit which is around diversification. And the way I want to do this is we developed or used a programme that's an Excel based programme that allows us to start to look at if we know there's a whole lot of risky variables in a farm business, and we know that we can create ranges for each of those risky variables, or put the odds around each of those. What happens when you put them all together?

Cam Nicholson:So we know that if we had three or four different crops, we've got different yield profiles of each of those or risks around each of those. We know all the process are going to be different. We know there's a risk around say, supplementary feeding. I can't tell you now, how much supplementary feed I'll spend in six, eight months time, got no idea. Okay? Because I don't know how the season's going to pan out. So there's risk in all of that.

Cam Nicholson:So we can create all of these with the odds of what are the chances of not feeding at all? Probably pretty slim, one in 15, one in 20. What are the chances of having to feed for six months? Maybe one in 10, one in eight. What are the chances of having to feed x amount? Yeah, maybe one in two. So we can create these distributions or ranges for each of those.

Cam Nicholson:So the farm I want to show you, just to talk about this diversification is a farm, simple, I just rounded around some of the numbers, but it's actually a real farm. Got 400 hectares of crop, canola, wheat. They grow some oats, cut some hay as well. About a thousand hectare of grazing. It's mainly sheep operation, so sheep for wool. First cross, also turning off fat lambs obviously, and a little bit of beef production in there as well. So they've actually got three enterprises, cropping enterprise, sheep and cattle one.

Cam Nicholson:There are 27 risky variables in this business when we did the analysis on it. So 27 things we identified that we couldn't pick beforehand with certainty of what that result would be. So we put ranges in for each of those around yields, prices and costs. So basically, we created these for all of those risky variables, this sort of a graph like I showed you before.

Cam Nicholson:So for the heavy steers that they were turning off in this operation, that's what the distribution looked like for the weight of those steers that we were turning off and what weight we'd be turning them off at. Okay? So we created these 27 times for those 27 different variables. All right.

Cam Nicholson:And then what we collected was when it did this calculation with all of those different variables in place, we collected what was the farm profit of that business, that's before interest in and tax. This was a result. For the cropping operation, this is what the profit distribution looked like for the crop side of that operation. Okay?

Cam Nicholson:Along the bottom here is zero. So anything below that means that we lose money on the cropping operation. Anything above that means that we make money. Okay? And you've got that distribution. So the average sits around here somewhere, the others sit down there. Average about 316 bucks a hectare. So if you've done a calculation, yield is 316, but you've actually got that range in there, and there's a chance of losing money in the cropping operation.

Cam Nicholson:If we contrast that with the sheep operation, looks different. Our chances of losing zero or losing money is pretty slim, and I've got two different risk profiles, but the chances of making a thousand dollars, which was ... so there's a chance of making that in our cropping operation, there's virtually no chance of making that or less chance of making that in our sheep operation.

Cam Nicholson:And if we jumped to the cropping one, sorry, the cattle one, the chance to make your 1,000 bucks making just doesn't exist. Okay? So we've got three different profiles on that business. Stick all three of those together and it looks like that.

Cam Nicholson:So to me that tells me a lot, and we can sit down as an individual, and I've done about 40 of these, we can sit down and actually work out what balance of those three do you want to get the sort of risk profile in your business that you'd like. When all of those are combined together in that combination, you'll get something that looks like that.

Cam Nicholson:So we can understand what are the odds of not making a dollar. So this business will just about always make a profit. If we needed to make a 150 dollars a hectare to pay for our interest and pay for the other costs that we wanted to takeout behind that, there's a 12% chance we're not going to make it. So that one year in nine, we're not going to get that because of just the odds or the set of circumstances that are going to present to us.

Cam Nicholson:Importantly, if we know that's one year in nine, what do we do in these other years to be able to cover for that when it occurs? So how do you build that resilience in your business so you've got that to cover that poor year, which we know by odds is going to happen, going to happen at some stage. Okay?

Cam Nicholson:Up here, what do we do when we've got this opportunity, when we're going make on average five or 600 bucks a hectare, how do we invest that? In fact, some of the worst decisions I've seen is when we have years that sit up here, and we got all this money and we think, "Oh, now we'll go and buy something else." Okay?

Cam Nicholson:We really need to think about once we get these rewards up here for taking that level of risk that we have, very sensibly about how we use that money and where we put it. Okay? If you add those three together, it's different to what those individual profiles are on that business. Okay? So as you add them together, one compensates for the other, and so we tighten up that whole distribution because of that variability in each of those.

Cam Nicholson:So generalisations to finish off, the 40 businesses I've done, cattle are generally less risky than sheep. In those profiles, cropping's usually riskier than livestock. That's what I've found in most cases, most of the analysis that we've done. Enterprise diversity usually decreases risk, as long as they're not strongly correlated. They're three points I hope you've got the takeaway.

Cam Nicholson:So if we want to manage risk, it's about appreciating the odds and the probabilities of those different outcomes, understanding the effects of correlations and diversification. We've got some good analysis tools now that allow us to do that. And if you've got that information, we can make much better decisions on what we do than if we didn't have it beforehand and we were running just on a gut. I'll finish on that. Thanks Jas.

Speaker 4:Authorised by Victorian Government, 1 Treasury Place. Melbourne.

The value of grazing weeds

Cam Nicholson, Nicon Rural, discusses the main summer and winter weeds and their value (or not) to livestock.

Cam Nicholson:... this topic, which has fascinated me for a while, because as an agronomist, and as someone providing advice to a whole lot of farmers, there's this constant concern about weeds I have in my pasture, and what can I do about weeds in my pasture. In a lot of cases, the weeds are a valuable source of feed, and actually removing them has limited value apart from you wanting to spend some money in making your pastures look a bit prettier.

Cam Nicholson:So what I want to do, and where this work originally emanated from was just understanding more about that weed dynamic and how weeds in a pasture system, or what we call weeds in a pasture system, just appreciating where they are of value, and how they can be used rather than necessarily having to remove them.

Cam Nicholson:This is work that's in progress at the moment. It's being supported by Meat and Livestock Australia, and someone who is helping me, the second name on there, Jess Brogden, Jess is here, so Jess is going to put up her hand now. So a lot of the data that you'll see in the photos that I'll put forward here are one's that Jess has actually prepared for us, and also Lisa Miller that some people may know as well.

Cam Nicholson:It's being done through Southern Farming Systems, so the information I'm going to give you here, we don't have it in hard copy yet, but in another six months time it will be.

Cam Nicholson:Okay, just to run through, and a lot of the information I'll give you, there are four bits of information I suppose that I'll be talking about. And so there are some terms that we need to understand.

Cam Nicholson:The first one is around digestibility, and I'm sure people have heard the term digestibility, but basically what it means is a proportion of the fodder which is retained by the grazing animal. So something that's of higher digestibility, more of what they eat or put down their throat, they can actually use within their system and it's not excreted. So basically high digestibility means you get greater value out of it.

Cam Nicholson:The second one which is interchangeable is a thing called metabolisable energy, and a lot of cases, the limitations in our animal's system is based on not having enough energy in the system. So energy is actually driving the performance of those animals. There's a direct relationship between metabolisable energy and digestibility. A rough rule of thumb is if something is 70% digestible, it's roughly 10 megajoules of metabolisable energy. That goes up and down by about .8 of a megajoule of energy for every 5%, so if something was about 75% digestible, a rough rule of thumb would be about 10.8 megajoules of energy. So it goes up and down on that basis.

Cam Nicholson:And so really important when we want to understand where the weeds fit into it and the value that those weeds might have is understanding what energy or what the digestibility of that feed is and where that sits in comparison to the pasture that you're growing all the desirable species that you've got in your pasture.

Cam Nicholson:Third term is around crude protein, and again, I'm sure people are familiar with the term protein. It's called crude protein because it not only includes the proteins that the animals can directly digest, but also includes things like nitrogen and urea and things like that that are picked up in the protein as well, and that's why it's called crude protein. So I'll be showing you some result around the protein in these weeds as well.

Cam Nicholson:And the last one relates to fibre. Some people probably heard the term NDF or neutral detergent fibre. It's basically the cell walls or the structure of the plant that the animals digest. And so the more the fibre increases, the slower it is for it to be processed and pop out the rumen, so that they can eat some more.

Cam Nicholson:So things that have got higher fibre or fibre limits or regulates intake, how much an animal can eat. Once they eat it the first time and their gut is full, they can't eat anymore again until that gut empties out or their rumen starts to empty out. So the amount fibre that's in it is really important as a determinant of how quickly that goes through the rumen and therefore how much more they can eat. So there are four terms that I'll be talking about when I go through the different weeds that we've got.

Cam Nicholson:Okay, some of the measured levels around those terms, typically digestibility is in the range of about 85% at the top end of the scale to around about 30-35%. It's not north to 100. Okay, that's the sort of range that we'll be talking about. From feed tests, they have a simple three step category. They talk about high quality feeds being above 65% digestible, and low quality feeds less than 55% digestible.

Cam Nicholson:So when I talk about these weeds and where do they fit in from a digestibility point of view, I'll refer to them sometimes as just high quality feed or low quality feed.

Cam Nicholson:From a crude protein point of view, most people will be familiar with these, dry sheep needs about 6% or 8% protein. An animal that's lactating and therefore putting some protein into milk needs about 8% or 10%. And a growing animal, because it's putting down muscle and things like that, it needs about 12% to 16% protein depending on how fast it's growing.

Cam Nicholson:If an animal eats excess protein, as you probably know, it's got to get rid of that excess protein because ultimately it will poison itself if it doesn't get rid of that nitrogen, it uses energy to do that. So super high levels of protein can actually have a detrimental effect on overall performance because they're actually using some of that to remove excess nitrogen out of their system, and they use energy to do that. So there's sort of just some numbers to keep in mind. The 65%-55% range and those for your protein.

Cam Nicholson:And the last one's around the fibre. There aren't any standards on what fibre should be, but a rough rule of thumb that the dairy industry uses is around about 35% NDF. They need at least that much fibre in their gut, because that makes the rumen function properly. So they need around that 35%. When it gets lower than that, the gut doesn't perform as efficiently as it possibly could. And so that's another number just to keep in mind, around about that 35% figure.

Cam Nicholson:Okay, a few people may have seen this as well. Anybody done Prograze as a course many, many years ago, you've probably seen this graph then. Just to explain, because this sets up when I talk about the different weeds, this is April to March. So they typical sort of annual season that we would have in this part of the world in Victoria. This is digestibility up here, and on the other side here is metabolisable energy. And you can see that rough relationship between 70% digestible and about 10 megajoules of energy.

Cam Nicholson:If we follow that line around the top, around April-May, when things are actively growing, sort of the period that we're in now where things are growing leaf and not much stem, we're sitting around this 80% plus digestibility in our pastures. When we get to about September-October, and we get to this early in need of flowering where things start to run up the head, you get that decline in quality, and that declines and continues to decline until we get these dry stalks around about March before the Autumn break.

Cam Nicholson:So any dry material you've got left is sitting around that 45%-35% digestibility over that period, and that's typically the sort of cycle that we get with our pasture systems as far as quality goes.

Cam Nicholson:The top line represents more of what I call high quality species. In that mix, the bottom line as it says there has got more volunteer species in it that are of poorer quality. So somewhere in between those two lines, which is the black bit there, is representing the sort of quality that we could expect during the year.

Cam Nicholson:So if we look at high quality pastures from that definition from feed test, we've got high quality pastures. In a lot of cases, if we've got good species in there, until we get to that sort of November-December period, if we've got some of the poorer quality species there, it's probably tapering off around about October. And we hit what we call low quality in around about this January-February-March if we've got reasonable species.

Cam Nicholson:So if you've got ryegrass that's gone dry or phalaris or things like that, that would be sitting up at this end. If you've got more things like silver grass, those sort of things would be more down that end. That's just a bit of a split up between that.

Cam Nicholson:So how does this all fit from a weed point of view? First of all, I want to concentrate on the weeds that we might have when our pastures are typically in this low quality phase. So that's the first one I want to talk about.

Cam Nicholson:So what we might call our summer weeds that you get. Now most of the summer weeds that you'll get in the pasture are germinating now. So the ones that you see in December, January, February, March, are actually germinating now. So they virtually have a 12 month life-cycle.

Cam Nicholson:Anybody know what that is? Yup?

Audience:[inaudible 00:09:10].

Cam Nicholson:No. Anybody else want to have a crack?


Cam Nicholson:Sorry.


Cam Nicholson:Mustard, no.


Cam Nicholson:Dandelion, yeah. Some folks call it dandelion, flatweed, catsear, it's got a few different names. Okay, so that's the first one. A bit more of a quiz. Anybody can pick what that one is? It's a bit later in the season.


Cam Nicholson:Sorrel, okay. Most people got that one. That one?

Audience:Wire weed.

Cam Nicholson:Wire weed or hogweed. They're different, but most people call them the same sort of thing. So some of that wire weed. Something like that?

Audience:[inaudible 00:09:43].

Cam Nicholson:Sorry, not [inaudible 00:09:44]. This is middle of the summer. [crosstalk 00:09:46] Yeah, so it's a [inaudible 00:09:50] of some sort. It's actually wild radish, this one, but you can get those mustards and things like that grow. They're all of a similar family. So that one in that case is wild radish. And that last one?

Audience:Milk thistle.


Cam Nicholson:It's milk thistle, sow thistle. Yeah, different names, but that's all right. I'm happy to accept all of the above.

Cam Nicholson:Okay, these are five weeds I just want to follow through. Jess has done, I don't know, 25 of them or something, so there's a huge list of them here. I'm not going to go through all of them, but I'm just going to show you some of them because I think they show the differences in some of these weeds, and so some of the key principals that I want you to take away are key messages to take away from this.

Cam Nicholson:So first of all, the summer weeds. We also have a few that will germinate in spring-summer on opportune rain. Okay? So those weeds I was showing you before, they're all germinating now, and they will grow through the season, and they will pop up and still be around in summertime. We've also got a few that appear on spring-summer rain.

Cam Nicholson:That one, anybody know what that is?

Audience:Mint weed.

Cam Nicholson:Mint weed. Okay, yeah. Clammy goosefoot or goosefoot it's sometimes it called.

Audience:Clammy goosefoot.

Cam Nicholson:Clammy goosefoot, yeah. So it's got a few different names around the traps, but yeah, that's what it is. It's sometimes called mint weed. It depends on which part of the world you come from and which school you went to.

Cam Nicholson:Okay, that one?

Audience:It's nightshade.

Cam Nicholson:No, not nightshade.

Audience:Fat hen.

Cam Nicholson:Fat hen, beautiful. Well done. Okay. So that's fat hen. [inaudible 00:11:21], there's a few of those that you'll get, but they're germinating when we get October rain, November rain, December rain. That's when you'll get them.

Cam Nicholson:That one?


Cam Nicholson:Windmill grass, beautiful. Okay, so I'm going to show you three. There's another bundle of them there that we could have put up as well, but those three will show you the same sort of things. So these are the few summer weeds that I want to refer to.

Cam Nicholson:First of all, let's take the dandelion, flatweed, and catsear. There are measurements that Jess has taken on the digestibility of that weed. That line there and above that line is what we call high quality feed based on that definition. So that's where dandelion or flatweed fits in.

Cam Nicholson:This measurement here that's got about 70% digestibility, that's what the plant looks like. So a plant like that is 70% digestible. And that is occurring around about that November-December period. Think about how that was declining around November-December. These, in fact, are providing high quality feed than what most of your pasture would be that time of year.

Cam Nicholson:And remarkably you get to March and the plant looks like that. You see it dry off and look like that, and you think it's not worth much. It's still above 65% digestible, so it's still got value in it even though it looks like that.

Cam Nicholson:If I do the protein for this same sort of thing, that's protein at 8%. So if you're running dry animals on it, those dry animals would be getting more than enough protein eating that as a feed source.

Cam Nicholson:In this case here, round about that 12%. Think back to those numbers I was talking about of what does a growing animal need. A lactating animal, around about that 10%-12%. Believe it or not, that would provide enough protein. So one weed that we thought might not have been worth much.

Cam Nicholson:Here's another one. Sow thistle, when it looks like that, people will have seen that when it germinates. That prickly sort of thing. That's sitting up above 70% digestible. It's about 10 and a half megs of energy sitting in that. When it starts to run the head like and it's just getting a flower on it, it's still sitting around about that. And when it looks like that and you think, "Oh, it's just a weed and a pain, not worth much." It's still sitting there at about 60 odd percent. So again, another high quality feed.

Audience:You know you've got to watch your sheep to see what they select, and milk thistle is the first thing they like.

Cam Nicholson:Absolutely, yup. And if you go even further and you start looking at some of the proteins in that, the proteins in that early phase are around about 25%. So what you're saying is dead right. They go around, they seem them, they know what they want to pick out. And a few of these photos that I've taken was a leased paddock that we got this year, and when you put the stock in it, you just watch what they went for and you're dead right. First thing is all of the milk thistles. Straight away, they're all standing around it. About four or five of them are all standing around one plant, just eating it into the ground.

Audience:The milk thistle juice is corrosive for some species, isn't it?

Cam Nicholson:Yeah.

Audience:It can cause diarrhoea?

Cam Nicholson:Yes, it can if they eat too much of it over too long a period. And I should say, and I won't have time to go into it here, the stuff that we're putting together, we'll have issues around the animal health and the animal health implications on some of these weeds, and as well as at some of the potential herbicide options that you could look at if you did want to remove them. So I'll put them aside because I'm just not going to have time in the 30 or 40 minutes I've got to do that.

Cam Nicholson:So yes, there are some that do have some certain animal health issues that we do need to be aware of, but we'll go through each of those, so they'll be information on each of those. There will also be information on seed set of each of those weeds, and how long that seed lasts for. Some seeds will only remain viable for a couple of years, other seeds will remain viable for decades. So we'll have that information in there as well.

Cam Nicholson:So we take the sow thistle, it's the same sort of thing. A great protein when you think about where that is. So running dry sheep on that, cool. If they can eat enough of that, you've got your protein covered.

Cam Nicholson:Clammy goosefoot, anyone want to have a guess what clammy goosefoot is like? Good, bad, otherwise? That's why it sits around about 65%-70%. Even when it looks like that, the leaves have gone brown, that's where it tests from a digestibility point of view. If we fly through and look at the protein of it, that's where it sits.

Audience:Some of these summer weeds have distinct odours associated with them.

Cam Nicholson:Yup.

Audience:And it stinks like hell, the mint weed. My experience is you may get stuck with it.

Cam Nicholson:It'll be one of the later ones they will eat, but in the measurements we were doing here, it disappeared as well. It was just one of the last preference ones.

Audience:[inaudible 00:16:44].

Cam Nicholson:Yeah, my general experience on it is it's not their preference to eat it, but they will eat it if there isn't other things that they've got.

Cam Nicholson:All righty, so what's the value of those grazing weeds in a pasture system? So I just did a little bit of work where if we think about the time of year we're talking about is where in natural pastures that we might have or dry pastures that we've got, are probably sitting around, and I'll just take at a middle point of 45% digestible and about 6% protein. That's typically what your phalaris or your ryegrass pastures when they've dried off in Feb, the bit of dry material that is left, that's about what it tests out at after it's gone through the season.

Cam Nicholson:And then I've said, "What would happen if I put some sheep on it?" So I've just done this bit of calculation. First cross ewe, she's dry, she's empty. So just before joining, but I've said she's 55 kilos. The green height of five centimetres in that weed that's growing in that pasture, so it's flat to the ground like you'd think a normal pasture would be. They're growing upright as a lot of these weeds do.

Cam Nicholson:The dried materials are 45% digestible. The green material, the weed, would be 60% digestible in it. And so I just did some runs on this. Now just to explain what is going on here, this line across here represents the amount of dry material that would be in the pasture. Ignore all these lines at the top for the moment. If you put the first cross ewes in there and there was a tonne of dry feed, at that 45% digestible, those ewes would lose about 175 grammes a day.

Cam Nicholson:Okay, so just imagine they're just eating that dry feed and nothing else. As there's more dry feed available and therefore they can harvest more, the weight loss becomes less, but they still have a weight loss. So even if there's five tonne of dry feed sitting in the paddock, they are still losing 50 grammes a day because the quality of the feed that they're putting down their throat isn't good enough, and because the digestibility is low in it. What they eat, they can't push out through the rumen and eat anymore, so they're limited to how much energy they can extract out of the feed they put in there.

Cam Nicholson:If you include in this situation here a bit of green weed, and let's take the grey and the yellow lines there, where we added some green feed into it as well. So if we take the yellow line there, that's if we had 200 kilos of green feed. Imagine if you got 200 kilos of weed in there plus this dry feed as well. Their performance goes from losing about 175 grammes to sitting up here of nearly breaking even.

Cam Nicholson:So that little bit of green of that higher quality put into the system changes the whole dynamic of the change in weight gain and also the amount of feed that they're going to eat. So that bit of green helps drive the consumption of the dry as well, and it doesn't matter if it's 200, 300, 400, or 500 kilos, you'll get that same sort of effect. Okay, so it's a little bit of green in it with that level of protein and that level of energy that's making the change.

Audience:Is that change happening because of the green in the rumen to enable the dry to be more efficient?

Cam Nicholson:Yes. It's a combination of things. The little bit that they eat is obviously of higher quality, so they can extract more out of that package of the green stuff they ate, but it also changes the function of the rumen because you've got that higher protein in there, and so the whole rumen function works better as well.

Cam Nicholson:And we found exactly the same thing when we've done a whole lot of stuff on grazing stubbles. If we have a little bit of green picking stubbles, the performance is very, very different to if they have just gotten dry stubble without any green pick in it.

Audience:So where there's no green, it's possible to supplement just a few to keep the rumen, right?

Cam Nicholson:Yeah, so adding that protein and adding that little bit of extra energy into it, changes what they are eating from a dry point of view, all the performance on a dry point of view.

Cam Nicholson:So the idea of this graph was really just a simple way of saying, if we've got that bit of green weed in it, is it worth anything to us? Yes, it's worth quite a bit to us as far as animal performance goes.

Cam Nicholson:Now obviously if they go into a paddock and there's a couple hundred kilos of green feed and within three or four days of eating all that green feed, then you're going to start to drop down to here again. But while that green is in there, there is some value in it.

Cam Nicholson:Any other questions?

Audience:Say they ate the green in four days, is there a two day lag?

Cam Nicholson:Yeah, there's a transition of as the bugs change over, yes. So this calculation I did, I just said that the dead material was like that, and the rumen was functioning okay.

Audience:If they ate it all in four days, does that protein stay in the gut?

Cam Nicholson:The protein moves through pretty quickly, so it doesn't stay weeks in there after they've eaten it. No. So this performance is almost on a day by day basis. How much green have I got there I what might I be getting out of it.

Cam Nicholson:The message I wanted you to take home though is that little bit of green pick that we might think are weeds and not worth much, are they good quality from both a protein and an energy point of view, but also it changes the dynamic of what they actually do with dry feed as well.

Audience:I suppose 100 kilos or 200 kilos of green, that could be weeds or I guess that [inaudible 00:22:50].

Cam Nicholson:Absolutely, yeah.

Audience:[inaudible 00:22:56].

Cam Nicholson:No, that's right. A couple hundred kilos of green isn't all that much.


Cam Nicholson:The difference that I've got in here is that I've said that that green is actually of reasonable height so they can actually harvest it and graze it. If you were thinking of a pasture, 200 kilos a pasture would be about half a centimetre to a centimetre high. Animals trying to bite that don't get much. But when the plants are sitting upright, as a number of those weeds are, they're much easier for the animal to harvest.

Audience:Would it be similar if the loose end is standing up?

Cam Nicholson:If the loose end is standing up, yes. If those shoots are standing up, yes it is.

Cam Nicholson:Okay, let's move on. I have no idea what I've got time wise. Joe, are we going all right? Okay. All right.

Cam Nicholson:Just a little bit of green stuff in stubbles. We did quite a lot of work in the grain and graze programme on the value of stubbles which I sort of alluded to. I had a lot of surveying of stubbles. Variability, easily about five tonne of dry feed left behind. The quality of that feed, and this shows again, the green that was in that dry feed is around about 70% digestible and about 98% protein, which is any grain on the ground is even higher as far as energy goes in it.

Cam Nicholson:And then you've got your straw and your trash, which is really down at that low end. So this is an average of probably about 40 stubble paddocks that was surveyed over time.

Cam Nicholson:What we learned from doing that, the livestock performance, and we did a lot of trials on weighing stock in and out of stubbles, but it fits this weed thing, is around the livestock performance is linked to the amount of grain and green on our farm.

Cam Nicholson:And this is a example where we're weighing on a weekly basis. So up here is the amount of green and grain that we've got in the system. On here is the live weight gain of the animals, and as you can see when they go in there, they gain weight. That might be a little bit due to gut fill, but you can see that they essentially gain weight up until a point where the green and grain drops off to a certain level.

Cam Nicholson:So we've got a lot of green and grain. The live weight goes up fairly quickly as the keep eating into that. They get to a certain point there and all of a sudden there's a tip over. And so those animals don't just keep gaining weight and slow down and slowly taper off. They're either gaining weight or they're losing weight, and that tip over is really, really quickly.

Cam Nicholson:And exactly the same thing would happen when stock are grazed in weeds. When that bit of green is in there, you'll be getting that performance as soon as that green goes, that performance will change quite dramatically.

Cam Nicholson:And out of all that, we learned that there was a certain point or a certain threshold down here where if we had less than 40 kilos of grain or round about 40 kilos of grain on the ground, if we were below those thresholds, then animals would lose weight. If it was above those thresholds, it didn't matter whether it was a lot of green and not much grain on the ground or a lot of grain on the ground and not much green, animals would increase their live weight gain.

Cam Nicholson:And so it's a really useful way of being able to walk into a stubble and know whether that stubble has got any grazing value in it or not. I can tell you, once it drops below those thresholds, you're happy to have the animals lose weight because that's what they'll do, or you may start supplementary feeding if you want to keep them at that condition. Okay? But the gain is really quick. We were surprised. And all of these dots represent long-term trials that we've done, so this has been done for many years over, many stubbles where we've measured a whole lot of green and grain in them.

Cam Nicholson:And it's pretty consistent as you can see. The red things are down here. A couple of these here is where we've had some major diet changes, and that's basically been that it's rained in the period those animals are in there, and we've gone from having a whole lot of grain to all of a sudden a whole lot of green pick really, really quickly. That first change has made a difference.

Audience:In all the stubble, I assume these are cereals?

Cam Nicholson:Yeah, these are cereals. No, I haven't done anything on canola, sorry. But having said that, I can't believe if you ever tested cows who have been on canola stubble, the amount of canola seed that actually goes through them is quite remarkable. So I suspect they can pick that up fairly well as well, both sheep and cattle. Yeah, lick it up.

Cam Nicholson:All right, and so the rough rule that we use is that if you've got 40 kilos of grain as I've said, 40 kilos of green shoot, then that's enough to tip over and be in a positive position rather than a negative on. If you want to translate that, that's about 13 grains per .1 of a metre square. Now .1 of a metre square is about your boots, if you look are your books here, are about 30 centimetres by 30 centimetres. Put them at 90 degrees, draw a little square like that, step back, count the number of grains in it or count the number of green shoots in it, and that gives you some idea of what that threshold is.

Cam Nicholson:For the pulses, the equivalent of that is about 4 lupins on the ground in that little square. A couple of chick peas or field peas or about one faba bean is about all you need to find in that square there, and that will be enough to keep them above that threshold and those points.

Cam Nicholson:That's what 40 kilos of green looks like. So if we were thinking of our weeds, something that's got about that level of green in it is all you need. That's where that threshold sits.

Cam Nicholson:All right, I just want to finish off with a couple of winter weeds because the winter weeds is a slightly different story. Before we were talking about weeds down here, and now I want us to move and think about weeds that are here competing against pasture when the pasture is off high quality, and how some of these weeds fit in.

Cam Nicholson:So your winter weeds generally germinate autumn-winter, so this time of year. What's that?

Audience:Barley grass.

Cam Nicholson:Barley grass, okay, no need to correct that one. All right, that one? Winter grass or poa. It's a little bit hard to see, so I'll give you the benefit of the doubt on that. And that one, it's a bit easier, silver grass because it's got [inaudible 00:29:05]. That one?


Cam Nicholson:Capeweed. If we don't get capeweed were in strife. All right, and that one?


Cam Nicholson:Mallow, yeah. Okay, so we can pick all the winter ones pretty well, and that's good. Common you find in all these typically in pastures that we've got competing for other stuff.

Cam Nicholson:So let's have a look at Barley grass. Where does barley grass sit? Barley grass has a digestibility up until about September-October of about 80%. Okay? I can tell you, some of your phalaris is the stuff that you're test will be below 80%. So while it's in that leafy, vegetative stage, it's actually high quality feed, and as people would probably know, germinates early in the season and gets away fairly quickly. Okay?

Cam Nicholson:If we look at something like silver grass, slightly different story. Okay? So it's silver grass when it first sort of gets going when it's still leafy. It's not too bad. I should say the scale is slightly different here. That's October-November-December. It's of lower quality. So of the weeds we've got growing in winter, your barley grass is higher quality and stays higher quality for longer than what something like silver grass does. Silver grass will decline quicker from that point of view. Okay? And it fits into what you might call the low quality category by the time you get to around about November. That's where it's dropped to.

Cam Nicholson:Okay, capeweed. Anybody want to have a stab at where capeweed you reckon might fit? So it sits in the high quality feed from a test point of view or from a digestibility point of view. And marshmallow fits up there. Most animals go into a paddock and they find a bit if mallow and they eat all the leaves of it and leaves the stems behind. Okay, that's because when you start to look at some of the quality, that one might be a bit of an adoration, but all of these are sitting around that 75%-80%.

Cam Nicholson:So it's not as though they're not picking out the weeds because they're lower quality than the other stuff that's growing there, in some cases it's probably higher quality in the desirable species that you own. And that's why they'll pick them out and eat them. So if you think about it, it adds to the feed source.

Audience:Can I ask a question?

Cam Nicholson:Yeah.

Audience:[inaudible 00:31:24].

Cam Nicholson:No, no, no. That's because we didn't have measurements. This was a bit of a transition. It just came on in July, so we've had a transition of people between then, so we're filling in a few of the gaps. Sorry. So I'm just showing you this as [inaudible 00:31:42] at the moment, but I would imagine that those two bars will sit somewhere in there anyway.

Cam Nicholson:So that's from the energy point of view. I've just summarised these now from a protein point of view. As you'll see, something like barley grass stays really high protein until about October. Okay, so it's a high quality feed. Contrast that in something like capeweed. Capeweed is up around 30% digestible, I'm sorry, 30% protein in those periods. And I reckon most of you would have that capeweed is a weed. It's a bit of bug and we don't like it. From an energy and from a protein point of view, it's actually got a fair bit in it. It's got some downsides which I'll talk about in a second.

Cam Nicholson:Something like marshmallow, look at the proteins in that. December, it's 20% protein. Okay, and these have been tested multiple times and these are the results we come out with.

Audience:For the marshmallow, is that including the stem?

Cam Nicholson:It includes some stem. Yeah, some stem in that as well. I suspect though that where you see marshmallow, quite often it's in fertile areas. They might be around sheep camps and things like that. And I imagine that protein is a bit high because it's actually high in nitrogen and it's sort of picked that up and turned that into the protein on it. And if you then look at silver grass, as you can see, the protein is a bit lower as well.

Cam Nicholson:A couple of other things I just want touch on to finish off, one is around fibre. So remember that figure that I had for fibre which was around about 35%? We want to try and be above 35% for active and good rumen function.

Cam Nicholson:If you look at something like capeweed, and we're hitting around about that 35% percent, you can see in a lot of cases that the capeweed doesn't make that grade or is just on the border line, and I think that's part of the reason why when you see animals that are grazing capeweed, we do sometimes get some animal health issue, putting nitrate aside, but some animal health issues just on the general function of animals grazing lots of capeweed, because the fibre is just on that border line if it's had enough for the rumen.

Audience:But you could supplement?

Cam Nicholson:Yeah, so you can add other things into it, yeah. But just thinking of it as a weed, separate as an individual weed, energy, protein, pretty good. Fibre on that sort of dicey side of it. Okay?

Cam Nicholson:And mallow sometimes can do the same sort of thing. It's on that sort of dodgy sort of area, where typically the things like our barley grasses and silver grasses, you graze barley grass, you generally don't see those digestive upsets in that early stage on barley grass. And the fibre sits about right. Okay, that's why it's high quality, but it's above that threshold of 35.

Cam Nicholson:Last one I'll show is just the water content. And I'm sure everybody is familiar that when you've got green feed in that, it's got a fair bit of water in it. Typically, in the middle of winter it's 80%-85% water. So when we say a kilogramme of green feed, it's actually only 150 grammes of dry matter because it's 85% water. And that's why animals, if they can be fully fed at that time of year, don't need access to water because they get more than enough water that they need simply by what they eat and they've got to get rid of.

Cam Nicholson:The reason why I put the water content up is that, anybody know where water is extracted out of the animal?

Audience:In the large intestine.

Cam Nicholson:Large intestine is one and the third stomach is the second one. So there are two spots where the animal, if you like, can suck out water as it passes through before it's excreted out the other end. And usually, once it gets above about 85% water, those animals have trouble extracting all the water out if it before it passes through.

Cam Nicholson:So, in other words, if something is above 85% water, then it will tend to be runny when it comes out the other end because you can't extract enough water out of it. And I've just put these four up just as a bit of an example of that.

Cam Nicholson:So if we look at something like capeweed, we've seen animals eating capeweed and it all squirts out the other end. Look at that. Yeah, 90+% water in it.

Audience:But to what extent is nitrate an issue there when you've got some bowel irritation?

Cam Nicholson:Okay, so nitrate can be a problem as well. The nitrate levels in some of these that we've tested at different times, not in the work Jess is doing, but in different times, early on in the season quite often can be below what we consider to be irritable sort of threshold levels. Sometimes weather conditions exacerbate that, so things like frost and cold periods and stuff like that. Herbicides on them can concentrate or exacerbate those as well. But there are times where the nitrate in it is still below what is considered to be non-irritable, but it will still squirt out the end.

Cam Nicholson:They just can't extract enough water out of it before it's excreted out the end. It just goes through too quickly. There's too much that they've got to try and suck out and absorb, and that's why they get the runny bums. Okay? Where if you contrast something like your barley grass that they're on, around about that sort of point there, they can still extract that water out of it, and that's why the faeces will be tighter.

Cam Nicholson:So that's just one. So if you look at your capeweed, from that point of view, putting nitrate aside just for the moment, in the early stage you've got high water. That's why it will squirt out. Low in fibre, that's what I might not be the most fantastic diet that they're on, but the energy and protein is pretty good with it. So if it's a component of the diet rather than a major source of the diet, then it can actually be a useful feed. ]

Audience:What's the NDF?

Cam Nicholson:The NDF of?

Audience:Capeweed and that, so like will that take into account how it passes through?

Cam Nicholson:Yup.

Audience:[inaudible 00:37:22] how that either increases or slows it passing through.

Cam Nicholson:So that's the NDF, so that's the fibre. [crosstalk 00:37:44] That's the NDF of it there. So remember I was talking about that 35%, sort of being around about that? If you look at that, that will sort of bounce around on that threshold I reckon between that, and that's why I reckon sometimes, because we're right on the edge, sometimes you could potentially get that problem, and that sort of makes sense to me that that's why sometimes that might be an issue. Too much capeweed in the diet and therefore would have that problem just on that fibre in it and the water content.

Cam Nicholson:All right, five minutes? Summary time, Joe. All right.

Cam Nicholson:I put there that weeds can provide a valuable source of energy and protein, especially when in their vegetative stage. And I've got animal health issues aside. There's a whole story around these different weeds and the animal health problems that you can get. Nitrate is one that we've spoken about, but there are a whole lot of other potential toxins that some of these have and can concentrate at certain times, which we'll go into in the details of the weed stuff that we put together.

Cam Nicholson:And so the choice to remove these weeds is a balance of the feed provided against the negatives. And one of those that we're working on at the moment is this whole idea of competition.

Cam Nicholson:Okay, so all I've talked about in the weeds here is the value of them if you eat them. I think there is another whole story we need to understand that okay, if you've got those weeds here and they're competing against the desirable species you want, just how much impact are they actually having?

Cam Nicholson:Okay, so Jess is doing some work for us at the moment where we're removing some of the competition of those weeds and looking at how that changes the dynamic of the other species that are left behind, because I think that's an important one that we need to understand if we're making those decisions of removing those weeds as well.

Cam Nicholson:And other negatives, things like contamination from seed is obviously issues that you need to consider. So if you've got barley grass and things like that, there are those seed issues. Erodium, which you might have with the seeds. Those sort of things need to be taken into account.

Cam Nicholson:And the last one in the whole weed management is just keeping in the back of your mind this idea about seed longevity or how long those seeds will remain viable once they've been set, because I've seen lots of cases where people have tried to remove certain weeds out of a system, and two years later they're all back again. And they think the weed control failed. The weed control actually worked really well. It's just you've got a seed bank of 10 years of seed sitting there and it's just gonna keep germinating year after year.

Cam Nicholson:So understanding that whole life of the seed that you've got there is really important when we're making those choices of weed removal. And that also will be in the stuff that we're putting together. This work will be available through the MLA Feedbase Adoption Programme, so in the next six months, all of this will be available in multiple sources.

Cam Nicholson:That's where I'll finish talking, but I think there's a couple questions?


Cam Nicholson:Yup.

Audience:I just thought I'd mention that because it causes some issues.

Cam Nicholson:So yes, it's really hard to control, and yes has toxicity issues. So heliotrope is one of those weeds that I'd be removing as a weed. Yeah.

Audience:What value is Onion grass?

Cam Nicholson:So I didn't put onion grass up there, but onion grass, if you can remember of the top of your head, Jeff, but the NDF in it, so the fibre in it was up around 60 odd percent in the middle of once it's germinated. The energy is around about eight or 9 megajoules I think it is, and the protein is pretty low as well. So it's got everything going wrong for it. Yeah. And that's the reason why if they eat it and it gets caught in the guts, it doesn't digest and go out the other end because the fibre is just so high in it. It just rolls around in the gut. Yeah.

The drivers of triplet ewe and lamb performance

Paul Kenyon, Massey University NZ, presents on the challenges that present from increasing reproduction rates and outlines the current best practice guidelines for triplet bearing ewes to maximise performance.

The drivers of triplet ewe and lamb performance

Economics of autumn saving

Andrew Whale, Livestock Logic, discusses the principles of autumn saving pastures, the results of on-farm demonstrations and how the economics stack up.

Andrew Whale: Just to give everyone a bit of a background for this, three years ago, myself and Bindi Hunter, who is a departmental staff member at Warrnambool took on this producer demonstration side, so funded by MLA and DPI, with my GlenThomson Best Wool Bestlamb Group.

Andrew Whale: I guess what we wanted to focus on is the value of conserving feed the autumn break, so just want to get that clear that this is not looking at confinement feeding in a drought, it's actually an annual programme of the day we get the autumn break, making sheep or keeping sheep off those pastures so that we get a good bank of feed heading into winter, what's the cost of doing that in terms of feeding sheep, and then what are benefits out the other side.

Andrew Whale: With me today is... [inaudible 00:00:54] done with that, there we go... is Darren Sherman standing here. Darren is a producer that's taken onboard, I guess autumn saving for about 10 years, so I guess I'm going to present the data from our trial work, Darren's going to talk about the pros and cons of autumn saving, and I think we'll try and leave a reasonable amount of time for questions, because I think the way that you attack that autumn saving and the confinement feeding is what's really critical. It's all good and well showing you there's money to be made in it, but if you get it wrong, it can be a disaster in terms of stock management.

Andrew Whale: Yeah, I guess I've given a little bit of a description of this, but what is autumn savings? It's keeping stock off pastures after the autumn break. I guess we set desirable food levels depending on the three farms that we worked at. I probably didn't explain that, but over the three years, we worked with three different producers. They had varying stocking rates, all lamb at the same time of year, but some of them were Merinos and some of them were composite breeders.

Andrew Whale: The aims of the demo were to measure the production benefits from meeting pasture targets for our animals over winter, so ensuring that we're hitting our 1400 kilos for twin-bearing ewes during that lambing period. All of these producers were July lambers, so 1st of July, we wanted to make sure that we had that feed.

Andrew Whale: We wanted to compare the confinement feeding for autumn savings to the paddock feeding, so the costs of that. We tried to work out which years it is going to be profitable and how much additional feed we grow as a result of ensuring that we've got those solar panels up. We've got our grass in the middle of the winter and we're able to grow grass as opposed to having it nipped off like this.

Andrew Whale: Which another thing I do want to put into context here, this is very southwest Victorian focused I guess, be we have a very reliable autumn break. Not necessarily the timing of it, but we always have moisture in winter and for those in the northern state, I'm not going to pretend to say that this is something that you could have used to give you benefit over the last couple of years, because if you don't get rain, you don't get the opportunity to grow that grass obviously.

Andrew Whale: This is the timeline of it, so the July lambing, obviously February joining, scanning, so typically late April, and we would manage them out into the paddock, all the sheep together, soon as we got what we called the autumn break rain, so we're looking for an inch rainfall. That's when we would bring them in to confinement, half the mob, and the other half would stay out and be managed in the paddock. Managed to try and get a similar condition score profile in both mobs of sheep, and I'll show you later that that wasn't always achieved, and I guess predominantly because when we get wet down in southwest Victoria, it's hard to keep those sheep really happy in that in confinement environment.

Andrew Whale: To determine the amount of feed that we wanted on these farms prior to letting us confinement sheep out, we had to look at a few factors, and these are all pretty self-explanatory, but stocking rate, sheep size, scanning rate, pasture growth rate, so we were expecting throughout winter, and that's obviously dependent on soil fertility, temperatures and the pasture species.

Andrew Whale: Why do I think autumn saving works really well? These are the pastures from space growth rates for Southern Grampians, and you can see the huge amount of variability... is that a word? Yeah. In the spring and in the autumn time, but our winters are so predictable in terms of growth rates. Yes, we have winters that might have 20% less growth rate, but when we're talking about 15, 16 kilo of growth a day in a pasture, and we drop that 20 kilos, the two to three kilos is not really that significant a difference in comparison to the huge variations we get in autumn. We get a good autumn break and we'll grow two tonne of more feed prior to winter. If we can get our targets right for the farmer, we can have really good confidence that those sheep aren't going to be short on feed for that whole winter period.

Andrew Whale: These are pastures from space calculations, which I believe they underestimate what you're good pastures will be doing, so it got there in the middle of winter, around that 10 kilos per hectare per day in southwest Victoria, and I was going to talk to Darren about it earlier, but I failed to, but his farm, I know what his stocking rate is, and he would typically, I reckon, be going about 20 to 25 kilos per hectare per day over the middle of the winter.

Andrew Whale: Right, so don't take too much notice of this, but I guess this was just an example of how we worked it out for each farmer. I know there's a fair bit of data here, but eight ewes to the hectare, 70 kilo ewes, so we essentially said that they're 40% more than a dry wether, they're 1.4 DSEs when they're dry. Carrying twins, so then we multiplied it again by 2.5. as a group of sheep, they are going to consume 24 kilos, 24 and a half kilos per hectare per day. If we put in that we estimated pasture to grow at 20 kilos, that gives us a deficit of four and a half for every day. We were looking at 80 days from the time they go into the paddock pre-lambing, until we knew that pastures were going to be growing away from them.

Andrew Whale: 80 days at four and a half kilos a day, essentially a deficit of 336 kilos, I know that's a lot of numbers, but we set a target, we never wanted it below 1200, so therefor we were working on 1536 kilos, not that we're that exact when we do our estimations, but essentially we wanted over 1500 kilos for that example, to ensure that animals had good nutritional levels for that whole lambing.

Andrew Whale: I just wanted to give you another example, and I think the reason I've used this is because if you've got a low stocking rate, you can leave the tent, because autumn saving's not for you because you're going to grow the grass you need anyway. There's no point growing extra grass and not utilising it because it's a bloody expensive way to do things, and I'll show you on one of these farms, that's what happened one year.

Andrew Whale: Five ewes to the hectare, same size sheep, two and a half ewes to the hectare, they're actually not eating as much as what it's growing. It's just going to continue to get ahead of those sheep over the winter period.

Andrew Whale: I guess they're the calculations we used, and then I won't take you through each farm scenario, but in 2016 we wanted 1200 kilos to the hectare, in 2017 we wanted 1550, and in 2018 we wanted 1250. That's what we wanted prior to letting these sheep out to give us confidence for the winter. Just first two years were composites, the final year was a Merino operation. They were still joined to a terminal ram though.

Andrew Whale: Just to paint you a picture of the years, this is 2016, so it was probably a wet May, but it was probably the most average year that we had, I would say, out of the three years. Some rain, March, April, to get things germinated and started, but we didn't get a really proper rain until May, then it was quite May. Ended up being a very wet spring, but we're not looking at spring with this trial.

Andrew Whale: 2017 was like a thumper of a year. Robin Jackson, I was hoping he might be here, but he's not here today, who's an elderly farmer, a really great guy down at Hamilton, and he says it's the best year he's ever seen. Not sure how old Robin would be, but I think he'd have to be north of 70 I think. Just to give you some idea on how good a year that was, it was a ripper, and in 2018, I actually don't have the last part of the rainfall there, but it's again, it's not part of the trial. We had some sort of, a bit like the first year, we had rain just to get things germinated, and then the break came in May, really early in May, and got things really thumping along.

Andrew Whale: I guess subjectively I'd say that it was a fairly average autumn break in 2016. 2017, as good as it gets, and 2018, we had germinating rains and then a really good break. We actually had really good feed levels quite early. It was probably like a 70 percentile year I guess, if you were going to rank that last year.

Andrew Whale: Actually I think it's a really good year to be talking about this because we're all pretty tight for feed down at Hamilton, and you can see it would have been the best year to run the demo because we have had a later break, and unfortunately we didn't get a later break in any of those years.

Andrew Whale: This is the cost of containment, so we have our target food. The grain price has obviously varied year-on-year, so we were $270 a tonne, $145 a tonne, and then $290 a tonne. Again, it'd be great to have that this year at $400. Our target food, this is the days it took locked up. It was probably a lot less than what probably I think a lot of people would think, that in 30 days we were able to grow, on a average 30 days really, we were able to grow that 12 to 1400 kilos. Yeah can actually see what we achieved. We actually got a lot more than what we wanted on a couple of occasions, and that was probably with the timing of the demo.

Andrew Whale: We were working on monthly visits, and so because we're not out there every day, the way a farmer would be, we didn't pull the trigger on letting these sheep out of confinement. There's probably a really valuable lesson there, if we are to do all this again, we'd be out there every week, ensuring that we're letting them out when they needed it, or we would have just said to the farmer, "Look, when you think you've got 1400, let's let them out and we'll come out and do some measurements on those days."

Andrew Whale: The cost obviously varies there quite a bit, from $7 a ewe down to $4.40. Costing per hectare, and this is the cost of a tonne of additional grass, which I'll talk about in more detail. But when you look at current prices of $400 a tonne for grain, and you look at we're growing grass in some of those ewes for $30, it's a bloody cheap way to give yourself extra feed in the middle of winter.

Andrew Whale: I guess these images are probably what people think about, is this is the ability to give our sheep here 1400 kilos at lambing, as opposed to probably that more traditional method of allowing the grass to grow up through the sheep. It just doesn't get there at a reasonable stocking rate situation until August, September, which is the ewe is well past her peak demands. That's 10 weeks after lambing in these July lambing systems. You can see the, I guess Darren will talk about this later, but the comfort factor as a livestock manager, knowing that those sheep have got that level of feed at that critical time.

Andrew Whale: That's 2016. That was the difference at lambing time. I reckon this pasture on the left looks really good, but when you look at the MLA ruler here, you actually can appreciate how short that feed is. On first glance, I'd look at that and go, "Well there's 1300 kilos," but it's actually not very high at all. It's only hitting that two centimetres on that ruler. They were all cut and they're actual cuts, they're not just an estimation that someone's done.

Andrew Whale: 2017, so this is the ripping year. You can see how feed we ended up in the deferred paddocks, so we're up over two tonne. We still got to 12, 1300 kilos at lambing time in the set stock paddock, and when I show you the data, this is really important to remember because we actually had really good results in these sheep that weren't locked up. That's because the pasture grew so well because it was such a good year.

Andrew Whale: In 2018, a similar result. we actually let them out at a great time I think, but the producers went and whacked 100 kilos of urea across the whole farm, so what that actually meant was, and we hadn't accounted for that in our growth rates of the pastures, but they were getting a bit worried about not growing enough grass, so what it essentially did was probably give us an extra 500 kilos across both the set stocked and the deferred, which then put the deferred paddock over two tonnes.

Andrew Whale: The quality of that feed was pretty ordinary and our pasture test showed that. There actually wasn't much legume in that paddock because the grass has just overshadowed everything. The set stock mobs were sitting around the 14, 1500 kilos, which we'll actually show, the growth rates were better in those sheep, but if you look at the pastures which are here, this is what the... Does this make you a bit jealous ?

Audience: A little.

Andrew Whale: A little? That was the set stock mob, so that's a cracking pasture. There's obviously no sign of those sheep going to be short on nutrition with the quality of feed that they had. Yeah, there still looks like there's a fair bit of clover there, but later in the spring, that clover was pretty hard to find on those paddocks.

Andrew Whale: Condition score, so you can see here, this happened every year. We scanned, we let the animals out on short green feed, they put on a heap of weight, the ones that were locked up dropped weight. They lambed, the ones that had good feed put on weight, the ones that were on the set stocked environment, they started to work off that weight. You essentially had this big change here pre-lambing, but most of the time it ended up reasonably similar in terms of the condition score of the animals at the end of the year it was every year it was slightly improved in the ones that were locked up in confinement.

Andrew Whale: That's an example. 11th of May, so that would have been probably three or four weeks, so I think they were just about to come out of confinement this time. That was pretty typical of what was happening, so we had sheep on short green feed that they were putting on weight on, which composites amazingly put very good weight on, on very small amount of feed on offer, so they only had three, 400 kilos of food on offer in those paddocks, and they were all putting on weight, but it was quite high. It wasn't like your three or 400 that's this much across the whole paddock, it was those perennial pastures that probably only had 20 or 30% ground cover, but where there was grass it was three to four centimetres high, so it was very available.

Andrew Whale: You can see there, the deferred mob. Now that sheep shouldn't be in there, that's actually a ewe lamb, but you can see the difference in condition score inline with those condition score profiles that I showed you there.

Andrew Whale: I guess this is just the image because there, that's the different in sheep, but that's the difference in the feed on offer and what we were able to supply those sheep. Those skinnier ewes can handle this feed on offer, or they need that feed on offer, but the fact they're going out onto such good quality, the results were quite good.

Andrew Whale: 2017, similar results. The ones we let out got fat, the other ones dropped a little bit of weight, but then as soon as they went out they caught up a little bit, and you can see after lamb marking, they really stacked on the kilos because they had more feed.

Andrew Whale: That's the second year sheep, so not as dramatic the condition score change in those, but I still think you can appreciate there's a little bit of a condition score difference in those. 2018, very repeatable these results. We didn't catch up with the condition score, and I think that's largely because of the difference in that feed quality that I spoke about before.

Andrew Whale: The learnings. Every year there was weight loss in confinement, so I think this is something that we just need to really make sure we're getting right. I reckon we had really good nutritional plans in place, but what happened was once it got wet, and the Merinos were the worst at this, the amount of grain that we were wasting. We were feeding them adequate levels, but the producers estimated they were probably losing 30 to 40% of the grain, it was just getting walked into the ground in the muddy conditions.

Andrew Whale: There's really some significant challenges with confinement, and in every one of these situations, we were doing heavy confinement, the three square metres per ewe probably environment, so in a pen like this, you're probably running 100 ewes. I guess some people are going to run even a little bit, and Darren's probably an example of that, where he's using the three or four hectares for 100 ewes, as opposed to the 100 metre by 100 metre pen. The confinement ewes picked up condition significantly from lambing to lamb marking, which is telling us that they're getting that energy at a the critical time.

Andrew Whale: Lamb weaning weights, so first year we got a substantial improvement in the confinement sheep. These aren't actually weaning weights, they were taken at time when the producers needed to box them up, so they was often an eight week... eldest lambs were about eight or 10 weeks, and it varied from farm to farm. But it was probably a month before their traditional weaning time, that's why they're probably lighter than what our people would like.

Andrew Whale: We got a 2.1 kilo improvement in the first year, we got a one and a half kilo improvement in the weaning weights in the second yeah, the third year we didn't. I think that's really explainable by the fact that our feed on offer levels in the set stock mob were the optimum as opposed to the confinement. The confinement were rank, and so I guess in hindsight you say, "We got it wrong, you should never have allowed that pasture to as advanced as what you did," and I think that's fair, except the urea application essentially whacked an extra 500 kilos across of pasture available to those sheep.

Andrew Whale: Weaning weights, so the first year we got a really good improvement. 7% improvement in weaning weights. Second year we had a reduction in weaning weight, and we really had no idea why this is. The producer feels like there was not many dead lambs in the paddock, so essentially he had 400 ewes in this, and each of them had 400 ewes, so there would had been two mobs of 200 for each trial, and we're talking eight hectare paddocks. It would have been pretty easy for him to see what should have been a pretty large increase in foetuses, and he feels like they just didn't lamb. What we're questioning in this is potential abortion storm, which is actually great to see this because it is one of the big risks of confinement feeding, because you're bringing all your sheep together and it's where we probably do our most... I didn't actually say this myself, I'm actually a vet, and it's probably where we do the largest amount of abortion investigations, in sheep in confinement.

Andrew Whale: Because you've got all these animals together in an environment, if there's a disease that goes through them, they spread it really well, and Campylobacter is spread via faecal-oral route between animals, so once you've got an aborted foetus, they actually pick it up, they'll spread it between each other, and obviously they're eating on the ground, so they're more likely to be picking it up. We suspect something like that has happened.

Andrew Whale: In 2018, we again had a reduction in lamb survival, and probably we put that down to the change in condition score. The ewes that were in confinement weren't in good enough condition when they came out, and that's partly the conditions, and I think that's a bit of a reality of what we have to deal with, we confinement, and I think it's one of the challenges.

Andrew Whale: I guess the other thing about lamb survival is, and we've all seen it, you go and put five mobs of sheep out in lambing paddocks and you think they're all under similar conditions, you go in to marking and you'll get 120%, 140, 120. This is not set up to be a gold standard trial, it's just to produce a demonstration site, so those results will be, I guess, reflective of not animals to give us real good confidence in the lamb survival results.

Andrew Whale: I guess at the end of the day, we want kilogrammes of live weight off these ewes, so year one, we got a 4.1 kilo improvement, year two, because of the much reduced lamb survival, we were 2.2 kilo loss, and in 2018, because we had less lambs and they were lighter, we had a 3.9 kilo difference, and in the negative. Look, I guess a lot of this just comes down to that confinement management, as well as we've got to remember those ewes, the second year was a cracking year, and you would never have confined in that year because you just didn't need to with 200 mils of rain in March and April.

Andrew Whale: Profit margins, so dollars per ewe, dollars per hectare. Essentially a $41 improvement year one, $26 loss year two, and a big loss on year three.i guess I think this helps us show the yes, there's value in confinement feeding, but yes, you've got to do it well, and there's years where you've got to make sure that you let them out in time so that you're not growing additional grass without utilising it.

Andrew Whale: Across the three years, I guess this just paints a really good picture of what we've been able to, I don't know, show what happened. We know we can get more feed on offer when we need it, through confinement. We know that they'll be short of feed, and I guess we got that one year where this set stock mob had a large amount, so I feel like that's probably 30% higher than what it should be. The ewe condition score, so yes, ewes are lighter, slightly lighter at pre-lambing, as opposed to these ewes that have put on weight post-scanning and then lost weight from lambing through the lamb marking.

Andrew Whale: Back to the costs of growing our additional grass, and I guess I think this is what is the most exciting thing about the demo that we did. Year one, it cost us $69 for every additional tonne of dry matter. Year two, it was only $29 because that was, I think $150 for grain that year, so it was a very cheap year to have sheep locked up, year three, $47 for that additional tonne. We're averaging across at $48 for every tonne of additional grass across the farm, heading into that period of winter where we're wanting to maximise stocking rates so we can utilise the spring, but knowing that our winter pasture production is at its slowest point of the growing season.

Andrew Whale: Comparing this to urea. Average cost is $48 a tonne, ranging from 30 to 70, and the growing cost were 150 to 300. I guess if we had a crack at what it's like with the cost this year, it would have been about $90 per tonne of green grass. Urea, so for $540 a tonne, and we're getting a 12 to one response, which I think is probably a fair average to work on in the autumn period, the cost of growing that additional grass is $110 per tonne. I guess when a lot of us are using urea and really happy to do urea at these sums, it makes this autumn savings look really cheap when you're doing it at, well in a best case scenario, a third of the price, and the worst case scenario, it's getting close to one to one, but we're averaging about half the cost of urea. Which I think is really exciting for people.

Andrew Whale: I guess what we would have loved to do with this demo is actually not focus on the per head production changes, but the ability to put an extra three ewes into each of those lambing paddocks, because we had an extra six or 700 kilos of feed on offer. In hindsight, that's actually what we would have done.

Andrew Whale: Key messages from me, containment feeding requires specific management. Autumn saving ensured that we had food targets, and Darren's going to talk about that a little bit more. The deferred group had the required food available when they needed it, from late pregnancy through to weaning.

Andrew Whale: I'm going to throw it Darren to talk a little bit more about why he like the practise, the pros and cons.

Darren: Thank you Andrew. We farm 10 minutes out of Hamilton, towards Dunkeld. We currently have a flock of four and a half thousand composite ewes. 10 years ago we had a late break, it was, I think from memory, about the 16th of May, and we were feeding lambing ewes and running over lambs, and I vowed and declared that there's got to be a better way.

Darren: We shifted our lambing to a mid-June lambing, and set up our containment areas. We initially started with four, now we have eight. They range in size from one and a half hectares to four and a half hectares. They're all within a few hundred metres of the feed source, so I can feed all our stock in probably 25% of the time it takes to feed if they're out of their paddock. From a management point of view, that's, to me, is a huge bonus.

Darren: What we also do in our containment areas is we manage the condition score of our sheep. When we preg test, which is normally late March, we'll put them in their preg statuses, but we'll condition score them. We'll certainly take weight of singles. By doing that, we've turned mid 80%s onto high 90%s quite regularly.

Darren: Also with our composites, they get fat on the sight of food, so we've actually really kept a close eye, we're able to keep a close eye on the condition score of our multiple bearing ewes, and that is reflected hugely in our lambing percentages. We've gone from anywhere from 115, 120, up to regularly 145s and a bit more.

Darren: What it does, I think it puts you in control and it gives you options. It gives you options in a tough year like this. This has probably been the toughest year that I've had to do it in 10 years with containment, but we're still going to get through. We have a short four week joining now, which has given no compromise to our numbers, but we've got options. We have put urea out, we can go in with [inaudible 00:28:56] at the end of lambing. We never, in that 10 years, have been short of feed through lambing.

Darren: We've been able to increase our stocking rate. Quite often our [inaudible 00:29:06] Phalaris [inaudible 00:29:08] pasture base, I think it works particularly well with Phalaris, it gets going early and it's tough, and we've been able to lift our stocking rates up to lambing down 10 ewes to the hectare on good quality Phalaris pastures and doing it easily.

Darren: We feed on the ground, we feed six days a week. They have three feeds of hay, three feeds of barley, but you've also got that option to be flexible. If there's a bad weather event coming, there's one day a week you can miss out, so it gives you options there. If you happen to have an early break, as Andrew said, you can take them out earlier. You can take your multiples out, you can run them across your single paddocks.

Darren: That's a good advantage, you can get them out a bit earlier. This year we kept our ewes in until... the multiples were in seven days, just before they lambed, and we have had no issues whatsoever with putting them back out. Singles, we [inaudible 00:30:04] our singles. We'll keep them in containment until we see the first lamb. It gives us that ability to keep that feed in front of our multiples. They're the ones who are going to earn us the most money, and yeah, it just works well.

Darren: When we preg test, we will do a hay budget, and we just work out what ME can supply each containment pen, and then we just work out the ME difference with the barley. That just increases as they get more and more pregnant.

Darren: As I said, we've never had a problem with the transition going out of containment, but yeah, it just puts you back in charge. You're just not playing Russian roulette with the weather. Yeah, and we've never really missed out, so we're really lucky.

Darren: We certainly haven't had any issues with... We vaccinate with Campyvax anyway, so we've had no issues with any health issues in the containment areas. Infrastructure, those little pens, or they're not little, they're one and a half to four and a half hectares, very handy your crutching, lamb marking, sheering. We've actually got lambs in there, feedlotting lambs in the one and a half hectare ones at the minute. We'll sew them down to a hay crop, so we're getting quite a good utilisation there.

Darren: I think, yeah, by managing the condition of the stock, it's the lambing now, from my management point of view, it's just so much easier. We're not having these big, fat ewes that have got two perfectly good but dead lambs on the ground, they're just lambing so quickly, which I think is pretty critical with the composites, is not to have them too fat. This year we're probably down around three, 3-1 condition score with the composites, and it's the easiest lambing we've ever seen. You've got that ability to do these things and manage them, but if they're out in paddocks, well it's just Russian roulette.

Darren: Grass, as I said, we've never been short of grass since we've been containment feeding. Grass grows more grass, and yeah, you've just got to look after that, those green shoots, and yeah, it'll do the work for you later on.

Darren: Yeah? [inaudible 00:32:33].

Andrew Whale: No, well that's [inaudible 00:32:39]. Thanks Darren. I think we've touched on most of those things, but I can't, and I think Darren's probably done this for 10 years and he's out the other side in terms of his expertise in now managing in confinement, I think he does a bloody good job of it, but I don't want to underestimate the challenges for other people of doing confinement. I guess I think these traps, we do need to be mindful of, so that the people do run into trouble, they stop feeding grain because they're getting bogged, and the amount of hay and grain wastage because it's really wet is a problem, so I think you've got to really pick your sites well.

Andrew Whale: The infrastructure required, there's not much. I was with a client the other day, they spent $15,000 and they've got a confinement set up for about 10,000 sheep, so yes, it's 15 grand, but that's $1.50 a ewe. They've actually been spending that every three or four days to feed sheep at the moment, so in terms of that real cost, it's not a substantial cost for a reasonable size business. Typically in southwest Victoria, we've been doing it quite well over the last little while, and again, this is a southwest Victorian focus.

Andrew Whale: The disease thing, so we do need to think about those diseases, and Campylobacter's the main one. I guess there's others that are problematic, but Campy is the one we can actually prevent with a vaccine, and we probably should be doing that anyway. But it definitely heightens the risk of it.

Andrew Whale: Ensuring that we're not overdoing the confinement, because I feel like there's been almost a bit of a trend down our way, where people, they want to have two and a half tonne of grass, it's a competition, and you see those farms at 1st of September, and they've still got two and a half tonne of grass. You think well you have wasted a bloody lot of money in carrying that large amount of feed throughout the spring, throughout the winter, so it's important that we're not overgrowing grass because, yeah, we saw how expensive it was in that year where those guys essentially put 100 kilos of urea across the farm and wasted every bit of that I would say.

Andrew Whale: I guess is this for you? How do you make it work? I think this, it probably highlights the need for pasture budgeting and for us to be a bit more in-tune with that, and it's a pretty easy process to go through. I think it's something that now's a great time of the year to actually look at how much feed you've got across your farm, go back in three months, well two and a half months time, and see how much you've got, and from there, you can actually work towards... [inaudible 00:35:22]. From there you can actually work towards well, is the 1200 you've got today sufficient for you on your farm, or does it need to be five or 600 kilos more than that, or five or 600 kilos less?

Andrew Whale: I think that whole thing of you can't manage what you don't measure, we often forget how much feed we've got at this time of year, and so there'll be people that are getting really, really nervous because they don't have enough feed, and then in six week's time, they'll be happy, but then next year they'll get to this time and they'll be nervous again. We need to actually start learning what is that requirement that we need? Darren knows what his his, he knows that if he can get to 1500 kilos now, he's happy.

Andrew Whale: We might just throw it over to questions. Yeah?

Audience:           Yeah. Because the ewes were in better condition at marking, did that flow on to be in better condition at following joining? Did you have a flow on impact on pregnancy.

Andrew Whale: We didn't follow them through because we went to a new farm every year.

Audience:           Ah, okay.

Andrew Whale: Yeah. But I guess the condition scores tended to be better. In the first two years, the condition scores were better, and we would expect that to have improved conception. That was actually, I didn't go into it, but we did take that into account with some of the profit margins in terms of what would be the cost to put that weight back on those ewes, or the savings in grain.

Andrew Whale: Yeah?

Audience            [inaudible 00:36:46] worm controllers [inaudible 00:36:48] the same groups?

Andrew Whale: We monitored worm egg counts and we never got a difference, but you would think from having that, and we thought we would, but from having those sheep off those pastures that first 30 days, which starts your lifecycle, yeah, it's an obviously should be improvement. I feel like it's [inaudible 00:37:05], but I feel like we have seen much better worm control, and people are avoiding the need for capsules because they're putting ewes on paddocks on good feed, and they've had four weeks less of a lifecycle, which we know how much that growing season influences worm buildup. We measured it, didn't see a response, but you'd love to measure them the whole year and repeated years to see it.

Andrew Whale: Yeah, Gregg?

Gregg:   If you lambed a little later [inaudible 00:37:34] sheep, would that take that pressure off a little bit [inaudible 00:37:37]?

Andrew Whale: Yeah, absolutely. Yes and no. Because we're looking at the autumn period, you couldn't change the time of year they're in there, but you'd have less stress on the animals because they wouldn't be heavily pregnant. Yeah, an August lamber, you're going to be a lot more comfortable seeing those sheep drop a little bit of condition when they're three months away from lambing, as opposed to being two or one month away.

Andrew Whale: Yeah?

Audience: Do you grow the feed there or is it all brought in?

Andrew Whale: On these farms?

Audience: Yeah.

Andrew Whale: Various. One farm was a cropper, the other two weren't. I think the hay was mostly on farm already, but the grain would have all been brought in on two of the farms, yeah. But we did put on the prices for buying it in rather than the costs on farm for growing it.

Andrew Whale: Yeah, Andrew?

Andrew:  [inaudible 00:38:33] prolapse, did you see any difference?

Andrew Whale: No. No we didn't. Death rates were very similar across both mobs, both years. Again, we didn't want to take too much data to that because you lose three in one mob and one in the other, across 200 ewes, it doesn't give you a lot of power in those mortality rates. But no, we didn't, but we put that down to fat sheep, so you're controlling conditions scored better in that confinement setting.

Audience: What was the time [inaudible 00:39:07]? [inaudible 00:39:07] or...

Andrew Whale: No. Soon as we had that autumn break, we put them in. When we had confidence that that was a solid break, like an inch of rain, in generally that late April, early May period was the time they went into confinement.

Audience: When were they shorn and what impact on fibre strength?

Andrew Whale: Yeah, we didn't look at that. I guess yeah, really good question, because I think merinos that have got six months wool that go out on the green pasture, that's where you get your break from is that sudden feed change. I think it's something that, again, when you start looking at this as an annual approach, you want to make sure that you don't have ewes, you want to make sure you use it within two months of sheering, around that autumn break. Which people need to think about that anyway because it is the time where we get our biggest tenderness in the wool, but that definitely increases the risks for sure. But we didn't measure it.

Andrew Whale: There was two questions, there was the strength and... oh, when were they shorn? Look, I can the remember, but they were all pretty short wooled when they were in confinement, just from those photos.

Andrew Whale: Is there another question? Yeah?

Audience: Yeah, the last question.

Andrew Whale: Go for it.

Audience: You've got a few different stocking rates in confinement, what would you recommend?

Darren: Obviously your multiples are the ones you've really got to look after, they'll go into bigger pens. This year we had 1300 [inaudible 00:40:37]. They would be bigger, they would be better. The multiples certainly [inaudible 00:40:40]. Depends on the, I guess, with the typography is how heavy you can stock them, but-

Authorised by Victorian Government, 1 Treasury Place, Melbourne.

Options for improving winter pasture growth –  using soil moisture and temperature

Lisa Warn presents the options for boosting winter growth to achieve late winter and spring pasture and the tools and triggers to achieve best results.

Lisa: Right, finally found the right slides. Okay. So before we think about growing or when to feed, I suppose it seems like a dumb thing to say up front, but do you actually need to grow more feed, just because it's getting into winter and it's cold, things are pretty lean on the farm normally. But I suppose because a lot of people have been through pretty dry conditions in most of Victoria, and a lot of people have reduced their stocking rate. So some people I know are down 30, 40% in stock numbers, depending on what feed demand is on your property this winter, and how well your pastures are recovering from the dry, maybe you may not have to do anything.

So it's worthwhile doing a bit of stock take and a quick feed budget on a back of an envelope, and working at how much feed's across the farm, and some areas are probably still recovering from the dry. They might only have only four, 500 kgs on the farm, which is nearly a centimetre. Other paddocks, other farms might be bouncing around, 800 or 1,000 if they're lucky. So yeah, do a bit of a stocktake what's going around the farm, how well is it recovered, is it all filled in yet? Is there still gaps, that sort of thing in the paddock. Stock number, feed demand, and what are the pasture growth rates doing? You can measure them yourself if you're not sure what the pasture growth rates are, and how likely it is that you'll grow enough feed over the coming months, particularly if you're leading up to landing in July or August. You can use a tool called Pastures From Space, when it comes back online, and that was a really great product which I highly recommend once it's available again.

It's just in a bit of a transition to being given to or sold to a private provider from, used to be CSRO in WA. That tool actually has a satellite that goes over and you get weekly updates on feed and offer and pasture growth. If you subscribe, you'll get it at your farm level. If you don't subscribe, you just get trial level information, which is better than nothing, at least it puts you in the ballpark about what growth rates are doing.

But you can measure it yourself. If you go out measure a paddock, put a post or a tread in or something where you can go back to the same spot, come back in a week's time, two week's time, measure it again and you can quickly work out your own growth rates, which get you in the ballpark for feed budgets.

So next thing is, just thinking about what animals have to be going into those paddocks. Is it just dry sheep or lambing ewes? When are they going to be lambing, are they already lambing, lactating? How much feed do we need? If it's only dry sheep, they'd probably get by with just a bit more than that. If it's single bearing ewes that you're lambing, then they're going to need 1,000, couple of centimetres, and then if they're... can't see my own thing there. We need a head up here if you've got twiners, they're going to need up around that five centimetres. So who's going to need the feed and have we got enough time to grow that feed by the time they have to go in there, without doing anything, or do we need to do something to actually get that feed where it's in front of them.

So if you think about pasture growth rates, if you're not sure what sort of growth rates to expect, so you can do your little feed budgets, I've just got a pasture curve here for Bendigo with a well-fertilised phalaris clover pasture, and a similar one for Hamilton, but for ryegrass. So these are the kilos of dry matter picked here per day, and we can see, well-fertilised pasture might be growing at 15 to 20 kilos through the winter, around here. And similarly over here, in Hamilton, it might be doing a little bit better, a bit milder in the winter. But you can see the effect of this line down here, is a low fertility pasture, but the same good species but just being held back by yeah, low phosphorous or something like that. But you can see here that the growth rate's half that of a well-fertilised pasture.

So you know, you might go from growing 10 kilos a day to 20 kilos a day just by fixing up phosphorus or potassium or whatever the other macro nutrients might be. So we can do something about soil fertility and species, species will obviously affect the shape of the curve, and moisture and temperature. So at this end we know, yeah, it's usually not temperature, it's moisture that's holding things back. And then obviously when we get into winter, usually not moisture, but it's just temperature that are holding things back, and it depends what district you're in, how much that is being held back.

So if we want to try and grow more feed through that winter tight pinch area, that's just sort of... the bit that asides defines our stocking rate and that sort of thing, because it's the tight part of the year. We've got a few options. One is rotational grazing or autumn saving, and Andrew Whale's been talking about autumn saving. But we can use rotational grazing or autumn saving to try and create a feed wedge, that'll increase pasture growth rates, and we can build up that feed for animals with high feed demand such as the lambing ewes.

And this is an example of someone doing a bit of autumn saving that had stock in a containment area, they're just using their lane ways for containment, just holding them off, just trying to get that feed away, building up feed for later on when the ewes lamb. But the other options we've got are nitrogen and whether it's urea or liquid forms, and gibberellic acid, which is just a crystal that we mix up and put on with a boom spray. So I've just got two brand names here, one's ProGibb and one's Rise Up.

Okay. So if we've got a good pasture base, and we've got good soil fertility, we've got the options to use nitrogen or gibberellic acid and get really good responses. If we haven't got good fertility and we haven't got quite so good species, then we might get a response, but it just won't be the optimum. So it still might be economic, but obviously if we've got some better pastures, we can line up for these products. We're going to get a better response. So this is just kilos of pasture again, with that Hamilton curve. So here's the good fertility curve. So in, I suppose late May, early June when we've got moisture and it's still not too cold, we've got the option to use nitrogen to grow a bulk of feed, so we can be putting that on in here. And this little dotted line is showing you, if you put nitrogen on there, late May, early June, this is sort of the extra feed we could grow.

So we might go from growing 20 kilos a day to maybe 30 kilos a day growth rate. So it's pretty massive and we're just building up this feed and filling in that little feed gap there. If it's getting a bit too late for nitrogen and we're thinking it's getting a bit too cold, and this depends on where you live of course, then gibberellic acid becomes a good option. It works well when it's colder, so we can use it from June to mid-August, and then after that it's sort of getting warmer and we won't get as good a results from the gibberellic acid.

So we've got those two options and I'll talk about later where we can combine them or use them separately. Yeah?

Terry: This is all applicable to Southwest Victoria, true?

Lisa: No. Question was, "is this just applicable to Southwest Victoria?" No, don't panic. I did type Bendigo on the other slides. So it's really about moisture and temperature, which is what Jane was talking about with the database. So this is just, I suppose in terms of, you hear a lot about nitrogen, gibberellic acid, but often people aren't sure where they fit. So this is just me trying to show where they might fit in. And I suppose the other thing is if you're lambing in late July or August, if the conditions are right, you could have put it out here. If you're getting close to lambing and you're running out of time, often people think, well I got to go to gibberellic acid because I've only got three weeks before lambing, and gibberellic acid will work in that time. With nitrogen, we're really looking at six weeks leading time before we get the full response, that is. If we put it out and then graze in three weeks, we won't be getting the full response, the full benefit.

Terry: Gibberellic acid, is the form primarily best, I understand, with phalaris, particularly in the older varieties of phalaris? What about the winter active ones?

Lisa: Yup. So the-

Terry:That have already got these ...

Lisa:Yep. Yep. So the question was just about gibberellic acid, which I'll cover that in a bit more detail in a minute. Yeah, so whether they're like old Australian phalaris or winter acted cultivars, it works really well at a low rate. With the ryegrass, as in the [inaudible 00:08:50] for example, it works well, but you just use more per hectare. So it still works on the-

Terry: Even on the high-

Lisa: Yeah.

Terry: [inaudible 00:08:58]

Lisa:Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. It works on most species. It just depends on how much bulk you can grow depending on the species. That's all. So if you've got something that's, if you've got a good grass pasture, nitrogen and gibberellic acid will give you more bulk, where if you've got a weedy or more clover dominant pasture, you just won't grow the bulk. So they still might respond, but you just won't grow as much. So the cost of it is, it's not as cost effective. Yeah. But yeah, but that it'll work on those ryegrasses.

Terry: Do you usually combine them?

Lisa: I'll come to that, yeah. Yep. So nitrogen. Okay. So if you're going to use nitrogen, we want to have some good pastures, hopefully with some decent grasses in them. It doesn't matter whether they are annual or perennial. It could be annual rye, could be perennial rye, will just grow more bulk if we've got some grass sitting in there. And we want to have good background soil fertility, so we haven't gotten anything holding back the response.

When can we use it? So moisture and temperature are important. So we want to wait after the autumn break. We wouldn't use it straight away, because it's probably too dry. And there's also some nitrogen in the system from mineralization. So if we've had a dry summer, they'll be in, kicking around when the organic material is broken down. So when we get the autumn break, we have a flush of nitrogen's usually released. So you wouldn't want to use it straight away anyway, even if it was wet enough. Waiting a little bit of time is a sensible thing to do to use up the nitrogen that's in the soil, and then we might get, we'll get a better response. But we really need adequate moisture. So some parts of Victoria, people are sort of worried, they still haven't had enough rain to wet up to profile really well, but as long as you know the root zone has got moisture in it and the plants are actively growing and they are likely to regrow if you graze them, then you know it's okay to use it.

So the autumn break, it's usually touch and go and you probably wouldn't want to use it in anyway, because we've already got in kicking around in the system. So the pasture has to be growing. With our temperate grasses, it doesn't matter whether they're annual, perennial, ryegrass, cocksfoot, fescue, phalaris, any other varieties, they'll grow when the soil temps are above four degrees, they'll be growing. But to get better responses out of nitrogen there, you'd want to have the soil temp up around eight to 10, which it is kicking around at the moment, and in Southern districts it might even be 12. So they've still got plenty of potential to use if they've got the moisture. But some areas around that eight to 10 that that's when you get good... You could theoretically use it at four degrees, soil temp, but you just won't get as good of results with it.

Yeah. For people with subtropical grasses, obviously they shut down when the soil temp drops down below 10. So apply after grazing a paddock, so if you are rotationally grazing it works in really well, because you might have just grazed the paddock off, and then you can put the end on after grazing, and then not come back until the next rotation, which might be hopefully maybe six weeks in winter, which fits in perfectly with the time it takes for the nitrogen to give you a good response. And if you just come in earlier, you're not going to get the full response.

Measuring soil temperature. Yeah. Has anyone got a digital thermometer that they go out and... Yup. Yup. Do you use it a lot?

Audience: Most Monday mornings.

Lisa: Monday mornings? Yup. What's your soil temperature at 9:00?

audience: [inaudible 00:12:30].

Jess: Oh okay, good. Warm, yeah. So you can easily go out and measure your soil temperature with one of these guys, a little digital thermometer. If you haven't got one of those, you can have a look at the website Jane talked about, which the department looks after, and for those places in Victoria that soil temperature and soil moisture being trapped in those areas. But if you just want a bit more precision, grab one of these little guys and you can go out and measure it. A lot of the soil temperature stuff you read about is always like the nought to 10 at 9:00 AM in the morning, when people throw around soil temp figures.

So this is what Jane showed you before. So I'm just going to look at Baynton, which we thought, well it's a pretty cold place, 550 metres above sea level. And we've done a lot of work with nitrogen on Gerard Ryan's place. He's sitting there in the crowd. So if nitrogen's going to work you... this is pretty cold. So if nitrogen works here, then it's going to work pretty much in all these other places, I'd be pretty confident, because it gets pretty cold in the winter. So this is that graph again that Jane showed with Baynton, and the red line is that all a bit more noisy because we've got, that's a top soil. So it's changing in soil temperature during the day, and the other lines which are bit more stable during the day are the deeper soil profiles. So that's going back to March up till yesterday.

And as Jane said, it's sort of bouncing around, what is it Jane? Eight to 10, 11 or something like that. But with these graphs you can actually click on them to get a bit clearer picture. You can click on them to get... let's just pull out the top soil one, and also look at a smaller timeframe. So I've got rid of all those other lines. I'm just looking at the top soil, nought to 10, and you can see over the last six weeks or so, was up around 13, 14. Then it started to get really cold, and then it sort of seemed to have got back up again and hanging around that eight, 10 degrees.

If we go to the next one, that's just showing you over a day, the diurnal variation. Some days it could be four degrees difference between the high and the low of that of that day. So if you just do a check at 9:00 AM in the morning, that's what we usually talk about when we talk about soil temperature. When you read all research, trial information, that sort of stuff about responses.

So it's still, oddly enough this year, it's still reasonably warm and still capable of giving a nice sort of response to that climate. But other areas, like you said over there, it might be 11 degrees, and some areas might be 12 degrees at 9:00 AM. So easily warm enough for a nitrogen response.

So how much N do we need? So a lot of the nitrogen work's been done in the dairy industry, and a lot of it's been done by a fellow called Richard Eckerd, who's worked at Ellinbank and University of Melbourne. So I'm sort of drawing on some of his data here. This was looking at nitrogen responses, and on these bottom axis is the nought, zero kilos of N, up to 70 kilos of N. So I'm just talking about N, nitrogen. So if you're thinking urea, basically just double those numbers. So nought to 70, and this is the percent of maximum pasture growth rate.

So what they've tended to find is, if you put a little bit on, you sort of get less reliable results, you don't get as much response. If you put on somewhere between 25 and 50 kgs of N, you're sort of getting into this part of the response curve, bit more reliable responses. And then if you're putting on more than that, it's a diminishing return. So you're not growing any more grass and you're potentially losing nitrogen. If you got leechy soils, like sandy soils, you might be losing some N through the profile. So you're not putting up putting on heaps in one application, and if you put too little on you probably won't get the full, a good response either. So somewhere between 25 and 50 kgs, is a good good place to be operating.

And it depends on how much extra grass you need to grow based on your feed budget, whether you put 25 on or 50 kgs. So what product? Doesn't bother me what product people use, I'd rather them go for the cheapest. So usually your urea is the cheapest source of nitrogen, but if you need other nutrients, and you may look at other products because of that, some people are using ammonia sulphate, others might be using DAP. It just depends what other nutrients you're trying to put on at the same time.

And look, it doesn't matter what ... if you use the same rate of nitrogen, you should get the same response regardless of product. And even with chicken litter, I've had the same response where I've put on the amount of chicken litter, and matched the nitrogen in chicken litter to urea, I've had exactly the same response. So that's a good sign. If you're using, just pick the cheapest product or what works for you depending on other nutrients.

So here we are at Baynton, so like I said, can get pretty cold in the winter. And these are just some results from a few years ago, 2015, '17, looked at putting your urea on, 100 kgs of urea in late May, early June. So obviously once there was enough moisture and the pasture was growing and not moisture stressed, just timed it based on those conditions. Measured the response six to eight weeks later, and these are the sorts of range in responses, grew an extra 400 to 700 kgs per hectare, which equates to eight kilos of dry matter per kilo of N. Or 14 kilos of dry matter per kilo of N.

And that was pretty similar, consistent with a lot of the dairy work relate, they're always looking at ryegrass in dairy systems. But eight to 14. They often talk about 10 to one responses in the late autumn, and then if you haven't got great species or slightly lower fertility, you might be going down to five to one. So if you sort of can think about those sorts of responses, it allows you to do your budget to work out whether it's economic or not. Yeah, sorry?

Audience: What's the phosphorous level of that, of that paddock?

Lisa: Oh about 20 or something. Yeah. So per K, is not limiting. Yep. And can you see there, this is a replicated experiment. This has had all the nutrients, so nothing limiting. And if you can see that line there, there's actually a string there, but this side's had urea and that hasn't, but it's a good phalaris pasture. It's responded really well. Can you see the difference? Yeah. So the extra 600 kgs in that particular photo, which is worth, it cost about 10 cents per kilo of dry matter. So pretty, pretty cheap.

Audience: [inaudible 00:19:38].

Lisa: Oh, in this particular one it was probably, I don't know, 70, 80.

Jane: But it doesn't have to be.

Lisa: Doesn't have to be that strong when you put the urea on, as long as there's decent grasses there to respond.

Audience: [inaudible 00:00:20:01].

Lisa: I haven't in these trials, but just drawing on other people's experience. But did you want to make a comment or?

Audience: No, I was just asking if you had any comparison. Just due to growth or-

Lisa: Yeah. Look, and this is using urea, so once again the timing's got to be... you got to be planning ahead a bit more to get the best results from it. And I suppose when I talk about gibberellic acid in a minute, a lot of people have been using the easy end type products because they can mix them with the gibberellic acid and get it out at the same time. So that's one reason why people are using those products. It is a dearer form of N, that's the only thing.

So just depends on the timing and how much extra feed you're trying to grow and how it fits into your system. But just the other thing I wanted to point out about nitrogen is that a lot of our good, well, a lot of pastures that were good had deteriorated and getting filled full of junky grasses like silver grass. This is silver grass. This is near seymour or Glenaroua, 2012, I was doing some work over there. But it was a pasture that was, in the autumn the was phalaris quite small and stunted and it wasn't that dominant, but there were plants there. But the silver grass was quite, dominant, and PKNS were all really good, but it was just a bit deprived of nitrogen. So a lot of our good pastures, potentially good pastures are deprived of nitrogen and they're just not performing.

So if we can somehow get the nitrogen cranked up, whether it's more clover or using urea or other products, then we would get a lot more out of them. But this all happened in this particular trial was, in the autumn 25 kgs of N and urea form was added to that. And this one didn't have any urea, but the background PKNS is really high, and so by the spring, so really good in responses during the winter, and by the spring the phalaris had then suddenly out competed the silver grass. So it was just lack of N. It just wasn't doing much. And the silver grass was getting the advantage because of the lack of N, and the landholder had been using Simazine every now and then to try and clean the silver grass out, which just kept coming back all the time.

So this is a really good example, if there's a nutrient constraint there holding back your good species, you may not have to be spraying out the weeds. So this was a classic silver grass hanging around because of low N, and it actually turned out there was a molybdenum deficiency going on in this paddock, it needed moly. So that was another reason why it was so in deficient. So don't forget about molybdenum too. We can talk a lot about the macro nutrients, but don't forget moly.

Audience: Lisa, what are your thoughts on soil testing versus tissue testing at the relevant time of the year? [inaudible 00:22:45]

Lisa: Yeah. So the question is about tissue testing and soil testing. Soil testing is good for Ph and macronutrients and some structural things. Leaf analysis is good for trace elements. So if you're not sure about moly, copper, boron, zinc, go leaf test. You get some of that information on a soil test, but leaf test is more accurate. Spring, leaf test in spring before the clover flowers, and soil test, I usually go for spring too, just because the ground's soft and you get your results back before your autumn fertilising programme.

Audience: Is the data showing that over a number of years, a period of which the soil temperature is super firm. And so [inaudible 00:23:32]?

Lisa: Is the question-

Audience: Soil temperature might be a rotational [inaudible 00:23:42]. So is the data showing soils are staying warmer longer, or?

Lisa: So the question is about soil temperature, is the data showing... Yeah. I don't know. We haven't gotten enough data from those sites that Jane's talking about, they've only been in for... not even 18 months, I don't think, have they?

Jane: [inaudible 00:24:03]

Lisa: Yeah, less than a year.

Jane: Nearly two years.

Lisa: Yup. Yup. But I suppose we could look at ambient temperature as opposed to soil temp, but yeah. It's easy to get air temperature records that are easy to get soil temp. So that's why these sites are going to be really great to have that information.

Jane: Cropping sites have been here for a lot longer.

Lisa: So Jane, the cropping sites have here for-

Jane: Well it's not cropping sites, I'd be able to show you [inaudible 00:24:32]. These little cropping sites, but these are three weeks on moisture. [inaudible 00:24:39] a lot longer, so might be years [inaudible 00:24:40]. I think it might be on those sheets, otherwise I'll have to give you that next week of course.

Lisa: So was the... Terry that question was in relation to, does that mean we've got more option to use nitrogen because the soils are getting warmer? Is that-

Audience: [inaudible 00:24:57].

Lisa: Theoretically with climate change, we're meant to be getting warmer winters, which is meant to help pasture growth and also more CO2, which is meant to help pasture growth too. So all the modelling shows that with climate change we would expect more winter growth, but more variable rainfall and as springs worse and autumns worse that we might get... so it's probably not much of a consolation, is it?

Audience: [inaudible 00:25:25].

Lisa: Yeah. So if we're talking about nitrogen responses, if you're trying to plan for your situation, what numbers to chuck into a little budget to work out the maths, whether it's worthwhile or not. If you've got some good pastures, with good background fertility, so some grass in it, it doesn't have to be wall-to-wall sort of perennial as long as there's some grasses there, because as I showed, it may not be great now, but if you do put some N on and then rest the pasture, you might find those grasses get stronger. So you don't have to use herbicides to take out the weeds.

So if we're working on a maybe bit colder, if it's getting a little bit cold or something else that's holding the pasture back a bit, you might work on five. These are sort of typical numbers, and in Spring if we were looking at fodder conservation, you want to grow a bit more grass, then often you see numbers like 15 to 20, but I'm not talking about spring today, just about the winter.

So if we got a five to one response and we just, for argument's sake, say we're going to eat all the extra grass we grow, if urea were 600 bucks a tonne, it's about 25 cents a kilo of dry matter, that it's costing us to grow that extra grass. Which is about 2.3 cents per megajoule. If we get a good response, like I've easily shown we've been getting at that Baynton site, which is pretty cold in winter, it's 13 cents per kilo of dry matter, which has 1.2 cents per meg. And if you compare it to grain at like this recent prices, you might be paying more than this, 43 cents a kilo of dry matter, 3.3 cents per meg.

And if grain's a bit more reasonable price, .31. So even if grain was cheap, you can still see, even if we're not getting quite an amazing response, nitrogen at that price can be still cheaper than grain and even obviously when grain's really expensive then it becomes an option. But if we don't have moisture, then we can't use it, we still got a hand feed. But I suppose the beauty of, if you've got the moisture and the temperatures okay and we can grow a bit more grass, at least this gives us the option to pull back on the supplementary feeding and hopefully not be doing it when we're lambing. So we don't have to be trough feeding, we can build up enough feed and then we can lamb onto the grass, and not have to go near the ewes.

Just a little bit on losses from urea, because lot of work they've done in the dairy industry, and just the general wisdom is, if we're urea when there's actually moisture, through the autumn, winter, the losses from a ammonia lateralization, they're going to be quite low risk. In the dairy industry, they're often using nitrogen in the warmer months. So the risk is a lot higher, but I think most strict beef people wouldn't be using it in that period. So the losses are going to be quite low. They're only talking three to 6% losses in a lot of work done in the dairy industry. So it's not a lot. And it's still, even if you get a bit of a loss, it's still cheaper than feeding grain most of the time, or hay.

So just a bit on, any questions on N before I just move onto the GA? And then I'll talk about GA and N because that was a question that someone had earlier on. So, gibberellic acid, if we're thinking it's a bit too cold in our environment or we're getting too close to when we need the extra feed, we've only got three weeks and we're going to lamb for example, then we might, and it's cold, we're well into June and the temperatures are dropping, and we think it might be too late for N. And then we could look at gibberellic acid. So it works well when it's cold or too cold for the N to work really well. But gibberellic acid is just a natural plant hormone. So it's in the plants naturally in the warmer weather, and when the weather is colder, the levels of gibberellic acid in the plants is lower, hence if you put GA onto the plants, it tricks the plants into thinking it's the warmer time of the year.

So what it does is it stimulates cell expansion. So you tend to get leaf elongation and that increases the growth rate and the kilos of dry matter. It's been around for a long time and used in horticulture. CSIRO did some work on pastures back in 1958, they used some pretty high rates, but they got good responses back then. So it looked promising. They were getting like 400 kgs dry matter extra, and that would have been older strain phalaris in those trials. But back then it was just way too expensive to be able to use. It wasn't a feasible option for pastures in those days. So that's changed now and it's now quite a cheap product.

So where can we use it? So pretty much similar rules to the nitrogen story, we want to have better pastures, better grass in them. Good background, soil fertility. So same rules as N, and with phalaris, very responsive. So it doesn't matter which cultivar, the old Australian responds really well, and the winter actives do too. You can get away with 10 grammes per hectare, if you're talking perennial rye or cocksfoot on the other grasses, it's more looking at 20 grammes per hectare. You can do your own trials and on your place look at what rates you can get a reasonable response with if you're not sure, but these are pretty much the standard starting point on the label, and putting it out in a water rate of a hundred litres hectare. So when, the timing's important. The pasture has to be growing, we have to have enough moisture so we can't have moisture stressed plants, but we can put it out when it's too cold for the good N responses.

So June, July, up to mid August, and then it might be getting too warm after mid August to get really good results. So best results if the air temp's kicking around five to 15. Yeah and average soil temp above five degrees. Like nitrogen, if we're on a rotation, we can graze the pasture off and then put it on after grazing and let that pasture rest for at least three weeks, maybe four weeks, to get the full growth response, before we come back and eat it off. But you need a little more leaf than you'd probably get away with with nitrogen, just because it's got to go in through the leaves. So I'm saying minimum of 800. Some stuff you read's 1,000, but most people don't have 1,000 kilos left after the they've just grazed the paddock. So just want some leaf for it to be taken up.

Apply to dry leaf. And if we've had a frost, probably just wait a couple of days for the plants to recover a bit. And like I said, if you can take stock out for the 21 til 28 days just to optimise that response and then it's worked through the plant and then it's ready to go.

So this is that same site at Baynton, looking at gibberellic acid. People have used gibberellic acid before? Yup. Yeah. So you're all familiar with the colours of the leaves when you use it, you get the cell elongation, so you stretching out the chlorophyll in the leaves, in the cells, so it tends to go a bit yellow. So you can see that yellowing there. In this case, grew an extra 200 kgs of dry matter, which is costing 11 cents per kilo of dry matter or cent per megajoule of energy.

So in this, phalaris pastures tended to get 200 to 300 kgs of a dry matter of hectare extra. The CSIRO stuff said 400, the old work did 400 kilos. So, in most other trials I've seen people report on it somewhere of that order, you know, 200, 300, 400. I haven't seen any higher results than that. So you're not going to grow the same bulk that you would with urea, but like I said, if it's got too cold for urea and you're running out of time, then it's still a good option, but I just think you grow more bulk with your urea, if you can use urea at a good time. But even in sub clover, I've had responses on sub clover pastures too and I've seen other work in South Australia where they've used it on medics and got similar sort of risk results. So most things will respond to some extent.

Okay. So got the N, we got the GA, and then a lot of people are mixing them together, using like easy N products and liquid forms of nitrogen, and mixing them together and putting them out then. And that's convenient. If they've got their own boom sprays, they can put them out together. The liquid nitrogen is a dearer form of in, but you've got the convenience of being able to put them out at the same time. A lot of results I've seen on where we put them together, sort of inconsistent results from whether they combined, some trials show no extra response, of having them together compared to just GA on its own, and others show up to 300 kilogrammes.

So if we're sort of getting that, if we're putting the nitrogen and the gibberellic acid on together and we're getting you know, 300 kgs extra, that's worth about 15 cents a kilo of dry matter. So it's still a bit more expensive but still, you know, reasonable value for money. So I've just tried to drag out some figures from different trials where they've been used together and looking at the extra amount compared to just using GA on its own.

And this is just one, the people that make ProGibb have got on their literature. They brought an extra 200 kgs of grass by putting urea and GA on at the same time and measuring it four weeks later. Just some of the work that I've been doing with urea and GA at the same time, but measured at six to eight weeks later to give the nitrogen a chance to work through, you know, 80 at one one trial, 100 to 200. And then where I use urea at the optimal time and then came back and just put the gibber, I guess around the optimum time and then measured it six, to eight weeks later after putting the urea on, 30 at one side and 300. And then Andrew Spiers ran a trial a number of years ago where he put on nitrogen and GA at the same time in the mid-June and measured it three weeks later and got no, no response to the nitrogen.

And that may be just because it needed another few more weeks for the nitrogen to do something. So if you're coming in after three weeks, you probably just capturing the, the GA response with the nitrogen, it's probably, you know, taking more time to work through the system. So yeah. So it's sort of inconsistent results. But, and look, like I said before, if you're in doubt, you can always just run some strips out yourself and just check what sort of responses you're getting. Just to give you confidence about what you need to use them in combination or just one at a time.

So if you're coming in three weeks after they've been applied and then having to graze it, that's fine. For the GA, it's already done its thing. But you just saw like diluting out some of the nitrogen so you probably not getting the full umpf from your N, and whether there's a little bit left in the soil, that's I think, because the N pretty much gets into the plant within two to three weeks, the bulk of it's probably working its way into the plant.

So if you're coming in and grazing a bit too soon, you're probably just diluting their overall N response. But yeah, if it's helping you maintain your rotation at all, that's a good thing because that's, that's a difficulty, isn't it? Is trying to keep something going through that winter.

audience:[inaudible 00:36:23]

Lisa: Yeah. Okay. So just, like, it's pretty easy to do this. Sum's on the back of the calculator that, I mean you know what the products cost. That's a, that's the easy bit. You know what the boom spray costs, you know what the spreader costs. It's tougher just knowing what the response is going to be. So that's all I've just tried to do today is just give you some feel for what to expect if you get the timing right and the pastor's right, but there is a little calculator on this website. Evergraze website, it's a little ribbon and you can go in there and you can just plug in the cost of urea or the cost of the Gibberellic acid, or doing both together.

Whenever you are having a look at, and then just put in a expected response and it'll quickly work out the cents per dry matter that it's costing you and the cents per megajoule. So you can have a play around with that. And then you can look at, well you know, if I think it's a bit cold for N and I only get a five to one response, is that still better than grain or hay? You can just play around with those numbers just to give you a bit of confidence whether it's going to be worthwhile or not.

Yeah, and by all means, if you've not sure with different rates and things or combinations, do some do some test strips. That's always really a good idea. To me, when I've done those trials, or I wasn't factoring that into a large extent and it does get pretty frosty right into the trials, but that's just, you know, this, this practise sort of recommendation.

Yep. Okay. So just to wind up, importantly, do your feed budget so you can work out how much, how much is that fee gap? Is it, is it a 300 kilos feed gap? Is it a 500 kilo feed gap? And then that way you can say, well, if I plug it in with GA or what rate of N do I have to use to fill that gap? So if you can do some of that number-crunching that's a good place to start. How fast do you need to feed? Do you need it in a hurry, which is pushing you into using gibberellic acid I suppose, and maybe putting a bit of in at the same time, what sort of responses you likely to get?

Yeah, you can certainly grow more kilos of dry matter from urea. Then you can GA, if you can put the urea on at a good time. And look, regardless of which one you're using, you get some response. And it usually works out cheaper than feeding grain or hay, even at those variable prices. So yeah. Thank you.

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Page last updated: 17 Apr 2024