Small Talk Spring 2019

In this issue

Stock containment areas – More than a drought measure

Free soil tests – Combatting acidification

BIGG Case study – Stocking rate decisions aided by soil moisture data

Landcare Unearthed – 2019 State Landcare Conference

Events – Find out what landholder events are planned for this winter

Handy hint – Local plant catalogue

Things to do in spring – Get your property ready for the warmer weather


Stock containment measures - more than a drought measure

A stock containment area (SCA) is a carefully selected, small, fenced section of the property which is set up to intensively hold, feed and water livestock to protect soil and pasture resources, maintain animal health and condition and reduce demand on labour during adverse times and seasons.

A stock containment area suits sheep and cattle. It can be used following a fire, during droughts, early spring finishes or late autumn breaks when paddock feed is limited.

It should be considered part of a property management plan and once established, should be maintained and available for use during emergencies.

However, if considering containment areas to manage stock when paddock feed is limited, also take into account other possible management strategies such as seeking agistment or selling stock to reduce feed demand on the property.

Cattle in containment area. Photo Hamish Dickson

Cattle in containment area. Photo Hamish Dickson

Benefits to containing stock

Stock containment areas should be part of a farm management system to reduce soil erosion, maintain and enhance soils and pastures, save labour and can improve the productivity of animals.

They can also be used to quarantine new stock, for weaning and for holding stock prior to other handling tasks. Given this, it is worth spending time and money setting up a robust and labour efficient SCA.

There are a number of benefits to containing stock. These include:

  • reduced feeding, watering and handling time for stock as they are located in one area
  • containing weeds potentially brought onto the property with imported feed
  • stock control when areas may need fencing rebuilt (e.g. following a fire )
  • less chance of soil erosion or damage to paddocks during a drought or dry conditions
  • quarantine areas for new stock
  • reduced energy expenditure of stock from walking around paddocks looking for scarce feed
  • pasture maintenance or improvement due to the ability to rest paddocks, prevent over-grazing (especially of perennial grasses) and allow pasture to recover after opening rains
  • better ability to monitor stock and keep them in good condition and health efficient ways of supplying quality water to stock.

Site requirements

  • A stock containment area should be sited on 3-5% sloping, compacted, smooth, stable soils such as a clay or clay loam.
  • Pens should be constructed across the slope and aligned with the natural contour of the land, to avoid pen to pen drainage.
  • Include the provision of stock shelter and shade. Shelter from prevailing winds should be considered to minimise dust.
  • Avoid areas of important remnant vegetation to prevent damage to them.
  • Site in close proximity to the manager’s residence (for easier monitoring and task completion) but in a location to minimise issues from noise and smell.
  • Consider proximity to neighbours and other sensitive sites.
  • Access to good quality water is required (refer to drought feeding guidelines in the further information section).
  • Preferably close to handling facilities.
  • Consider any risks of contamination to ground or surface water from runoff. The containment area should be located at least 200 m from watercourses or water storages. Runoff should be managed to prevent contamination of downslope areas or excessive nutrient build-up.

An example of stock containment area design. Photo Hamish Dickson

An example of stock containment area design. Photo Hamish Dickson

Size, construction and design

  • Allow an area of 5-7 square metres per head of sheep and 15- 25 square metres per head of cattle. Normal fencing is required.
  • The maximum number of animals per yard / mob should be limited to 500 sheep or 100 cattle. Smaller mob sizes can assist in reducing shy feeders (however adequate feeder space per head is most important). If you are considering containing more than one group, ensure appropriate subdivision / number of yards to enable the separation of different classes of stock, including shy feeders or sick animals.
  • Feeding equipment or machinery should allow feed to be provided without entering the pens.
  • Protect trees with guards if they are inside the yards.
  • Feed areas should be located well away from water troughs (such as the opposite end of the yard) to reduce contamination of the water supply and to reduce stock density.
  • Shade and shelter should be provided to reduce animal stress and assist in maintaining animal condition.
  • Use existing (protected) trees or ensure provision is made for establishing shelter belts. Shade cloth or other artificial structures can also be used.
  • It is beneficial to have a shelter belt (trees / shrubs) between and or around yards, which assist with wind protection and dust movement.
  • Adequate firefighting equipment should be available to control a fire within the area.
  • Stock containment areas need a constant supply of cool water by trough. Plan for an average of six litres per day per head of sheep, and 50 litres per day per head of cattle.
  • When feeding grain, 15-20 metres of double sided trough for 100 sheep is ideal, while for cattle it is 4-6 metres for each animal.

Other considerations

It is important to consider your own circumstances when deciding to utilise stock containment areas, particularly whether you can access the appropriate feed, the cost of feed in relation to the cost of production for the class of stock, and whether you can regularly check on the animals during their time in containment.

Other management options such as seeking agistment or sale of stock may be a better option.

For more information on water supply, feeding, stock induction, and further information, see the full fact sheet on stock containment areas.

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Free soil tests offered to combat acidification

A popular program offering free soil testing in the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges region has now been extended to commercial landholders.

This program is supported by the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges (AMLR) Natural Resources Management Board through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

Natural Resources AMLR Sustainable Agriculture Officer Dr Rebecca Tonkin said all landholders in the AMLR region can now apply for a free comprehensive soil test kit which includes soil pH, carbon and nutrients.

To qualify for a free test kit, you must be within the boundaries of the AMLR NRM region. Check with your local Natural Resources AMLR office if you aren’t sure. 

“Knowing your soil pH and carbon levels and how they vary across your property can help you understand why some plants grow well and others don’t, and to take appropriate steps,” she said.

“Surface soil acidity is a serious land degradation issue which affects about 256,000 ha in the AMLR region – that’s about 60 per cent of our arable soils. The problem is growing, and lime applications (to treat acidity) are not keeping up with the rate of acidification.

Unaware

“A recent survey showed that many landholders did not soil test their properties, and did not know that their properties were at risk of soil degradation.” Dr Tonkin said.

Once a landholder has collected soil samples, they send them off for testing and the results are returned with a report, including recommendations for addressing any deficiencies.

Acidic soils can be treated by the application of lime or dolomite, while soil carbon levels can be boosted by reducing tillage, keeping stubble in the ground, growing deep-rooted pasture plants, maintaining suitable stocking rates on pastures, and using carbon-rich nutrient sources such as compost or manure.

“By mapping exactly where soil acidity occurs and only treating the affected areas, property owners can save money,” Dr Tonkin said.

The testing is part of a five-year sustainable agriculture project (2018-23) to help establish the extent of soil acidity in the AMLR region, and to measure soil carbon as part of soil health.

The first year of the project, which targeted non-commercial and semi-commercial landholders, attracted considerable interest.

Vital for soil

Soil pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of soil. It affects a number of processes, including plant nutrient availability and soil health. Soil carbon levels are one of a number of indicators of soil health.

“Having incorrect soil pH can lead to the breakdown of soil structure and more weeds. Over time, soil acidification can reduce the variety of suitable cropping and pasture species.

Soil acidification can be a difficult process to see as it is so gradual, but it can severely impact on productivity,” Dr Tonkin said.

Training events will be run during the project to raise awareness of the impacts of soil acidity and to provide methods for restoring soil health. Information about these events can be found in the Small Talk newsletter, on the AMLR Facebook page, and by subscribing to the AMLR Calendar of Events email.

Further information

Register your interest for soil testing at your local Natural Resources Centre, or by emailing Sustainable Agriculture Officer Rebecca Tonkin, or phoning 0400 488 786.

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Case study - stocking rate decisions aided by soil moisture data

Barossa Improved Grazing Group - BIGG.

Location: Keyneton
Annual rainfall: 500 mm
Farm size: 6800 ha
Enterprises: wool, lamb, beef cattle, cropping

BIGG case study - Stocking rate decisions aided by soil moisture data

Information from Barossa Improved Grazing Group’s weather monitoring station located at Keyneton has given Graham Keynes extra confidence when making decisions about stocking rates, cutting hay, feed purchases and the growth of summer forage crops.

The Keynes enterprise is livestock-­‐based, sheep and beef cattle, with some cropping of vetch, oats and improved pastures.

Graham has grown accustomed to having access to information from BIGG’s weather monitoring station. It allows him to validate his own rainfall figures at home but importantly gives an indication of how full the soil moisture profile is at any given time.

That information helps the Keynes estimate when the growing season might end (rather than assuming the end of October). This gives them a valuable head start when it comes to planning for how many stock they can carry over summer; if they need to cut more hay for feed or if they are able to lock up paddocks for pasture growth in the case of above average soil moisture levels.

In early spring 2018, the Keyneton monitoring station indicated the soil moisture levels were significantly less than the equivalent time in 2017, which prompted the Keynes to consider things like selling dry stock, culling stock and deciding on the number of ewes to carry through. The Keynes cut back on cattle numbers to take the pressure off feed resources.

Another decision which information from the weather monitoring station supported was the choice to sow a summer forage crop in late August 2015.

Graham said that, at the time, the soil moisture profile was 70% full and there was an indication from the Bureau of Meteorology that they could expect follow-­‐up rains later in the season. This information supported their decision to plant a Brassica crop (pictured), with a plan to use it to finish off lambs and merino wethers before selling them.

The Brassicas established well and provided two to three grazings for the stock over summer.

Graham felt the information from the weather monitoring station, while not the sole determining factor, gave them extra confidence to make that decision.

He said knowing the level of soil moisture in the profile, convinced them that the crop would germinate and at least survive over summer and probably thrive in the event of a summer rainfall event.

BIGG case study - Graham Keynes

BIGG case study - Graham Keynes

Graham said they are also considering more perennials in their pasture mix having seen data from BIGG’s monitoring station at Flaxman Valley. In late 2018 at Flaxman Valley, the phalaris based pasture was able to access deeper moisture in the soil profile resulting in extra production compared to paddocks with annuals only.

He likened the weather monitoring station, and the information it provides, to having an extra tool to utilise out of a toolbox.

Graham also advocates that smarter grazing management strategies lead to natural resource management benefits. For example, de-­‐stocking early helps ensure their groundcover levels are maintained, which reduces the potential for soil erosion and invasion of broadleaf weeds.

Key decisions

  • Estimate when the growing season will end through knowing how full the soil moisture profile is at any given time
  • Stocking rate decisions based on end of growing season timing, and therefore available feed.
  • Planting summer forage crops if soil moisture levels are adequate and follow-­‐up rains are forecast.

For further information visit the BIGG website.

This project is supported by the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Natural Resources Management Board, with funding from the NRM levy.

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2019 State Landcare Conference

Landcare unearthed conference logo

The theme for the 2019 State Community Landcare Conference is ‘Landcare Unearthed – Celebrating Diversity, Managing Landscapes’.

Tickets are still available for the 2019 SA Community Landcare Conference, to be held at the Tatiara Civic Centre in Bordertown.

The conference at a glance:

  • Pre-conference field trips – Monday 28 October
  • Welcome reception – Monday evening, 28 October
  • Conference presentations (plenary and concurrent) – Tuesday 29 and Wednesday 30 October
  • Conference gala dinner and State Landcare Awards – Tuesday evening, 29 October

Included in the conference’s keynote speakers is Anika Molesworth. A leader of Farmers for Climate Action, she is currently undertaking a PhD on how to recycle and revalue agricultural by-products to improve soil fertility and capture nutrients within local farming systems.

For more information, and for tickets and abstract submission details, visit the Landcare SA website.

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Events

Landholder events are supported by funding from your NRM levy and the Australian Government's National Landcare Program.

Sign up for our monthly landholder events calendar for a list of upcoming field days, workshops and courses run by Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges, community groups and industry groups by emailing James Hall.

Seminars

Snake awareness

13 October, 1:00pm, Norton Summit
P: 8390 1891 or E: valhunt@ahnrc.org

Are native grasses right for you?

12 November, 7:00pm, Norton Summit
P: 8390 1890 or E: valhunt@ahnrc.org

Festival

Mt Pleasant Spring Garden Festival
21 September, Mt Pleasant
Visit: saspringgardenfestival.com.au

Conferences

7th International Symposium of Soil Organic Matter

6-11 October, Adelaide
Program and tickets: som2019.org

Private Land Conservation Conference

8-10 October, Adelaide
Visit the website

2019 SA Community Landcare Conference and Awards

28-30 October, Bordertown
Visit the website
Buy tickets  

Landcare Youth Summit

Register your Expression of interest

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Handy hint - local plant catalogue

Handy hint - Photo Lucy Hyde

Photo: Lucy Hyde

Looking to improve biodiversity on your property?

Head to the local plant catalogue on our website to find the right native plant for your needs.

You can search based on:

  • your location
  • plant type
  • appearance (flower colour, garden style or height)
  • intended use (groundcover, shade tree, windbreak, etc).

When you’ve found what you’re looking for, head to your local native plant nursery. You can find more information on biodiversity in the AMLR region here, or contact your local natural resources centre for advice. 

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Things to do - spring

  • Review your bushfire action plan and start your clean-up now. Visit www.cfs.org.au for more information.
  • Start your summer rotational grazing plan by assessing how much ground cover you have, how much feed is available and how much feed to buy in.
  • Assess your stocking rate – is there any more stock that you can off-load?
  • Have you set up containment areas? If not, now is the time.
  • Assess your water resources for the coming months. Will you have enough water and water points/troughs for your livestock?
  • How are your crops looking? With the current season, predicated rainfall and potential frost risk Consider cutting crops for hay or silage that may not make it to grain. Cut hay once the grain in the head is at a milky dough stage or when digestibility is highest (this can usually only be found out by doing a tissue test first). Good quality hay should be green in colour and sweet smelling, have good legume leaf and be free of weeds. Silage can often be a better option, if the hay crop is heavily weed infested or likely to make poor hay.
  • As the weather warms up, use chemical control, hard grazing or slashing to prevent seed set of pasture weeds and reduce next year’s growth.
  • Test sheep and cattle for worms and treat as necessary.
  • Spray around the house for any insects, pests e.g. flies, earwigs, spiders etc.
  • Check for any leaf diseases or pests and apply fungicides and/or insecticides as required. 

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