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Farm mentor program reaps rewards

June 14, 2017

ONE full season into a two-year trial to adapt his farming systems to improve profitably, Murmungee cattle farmer Ron Ferguson has already saved more than $50,000 by embracing change.

Mr Ferguson moved from an autumn calving to a spring calving, calved over a six-week period rather than 12 weeks, built an autumn feed wedge by sacrificing paddocks and introduced rotational grazing.

In June 2015 Mr Ferguson volunteered for the ‘Grazing Systems to Improve Profit’ trial and North East Catchment Management Authority’s Mentor Farm Project, which was funded by Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) through the Burgoigee Creek Landcare Group, and supported by North East Catchment Management Authority and the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, and the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme. The trial was mentored by farm consultant Chris Mirams.

Mr Ferguson said the program worked if people wanted to change and were happy to do it. “You’ve got to be willing to change. I’d give it a 10 out of 10 so far”.

He said prior to moving to spring calving he was losing up to 30 cattle each year to grass tetany, also known as winter tetany, a metabolic disease involving magnesium deficiency. At $1750 to $1800 per cow, it was an expensive loss. In his first spring calving in 2016, no cattle succumbed to the disease.

He found another benefit of moving to spring calving was the cows were more fertile in late spring rather than in autumn and he had better pregnancy outcomes.

Chris Mirams said the cows began to cycle more quickly after calving if they were grazing top quality pasture. “The farming system is about matching the enterprise to the environment.”

With 500 cows on his 440-hectare property, feed was also one of Mr Ferguson’s biggest expenses. He said thanks to rotational grazing and a warm autumn which stimulated grass growth, he’d barely needed to feed one bale of silage to the cattle. If needed, he can now use the leftover bales next year.

Mr Mirams said moving to spring calving could reduce supplementary feeds by 50 to 75 per cent, which in turn dramatically reduced labour needed to make hay all spring and feed all winter, allowing farmers like Ron to concentrate on other tasks. “Having the least number of mouths to feed over winter is a good strategic decision. It saves time and money.”

Mr Ferguson’s journey has been followed with interest by his neighbours and acquaintances. The trial included six meetings a year, mostly at his property, with up to 50 people attending.

Mr Mirams said he wanted to turn these farmers into advocates for change and see them benefit by introducing new technologies and practices into their farming systems. “The program was about long-term sustainable business and implementing strategic changes to maximise business profitability. If we don’t make the changes then the systems remain the same whilst the world around us moves on.”

For more information contact North East Catchment Management Authority on 1300 216 513.


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