South West Western Australia
The Proof Site is at Wellstead 100 km East of Albany in South West WA.
At the site, EverGraze is studying the use of perennial pasture systems in a region where annual crops and pastures are the norm. The research is assessing the affect of the different pastures on water use, pasture and animal production and lamb survival. Component studies are evaluating the affect of different summer active perennials on ovulation rates in ewes and ways to boost winter pasture growth.
Animal production in the high rainfall areas of Western Australia is based on annual pasture systems. However, these annuals use insufficient water and so lead to dryland salinity.
As well, livestock production is not currently seen as financially competitive with annual cropping systems leading to an increase in cropping and an exacerbation in dryland salinity.
Land degradation by salinity, wind erosion, water repellent soils and soil acidity is reducing agricultural production and decreasing land values. Salinisation is also threatening native vegetation and biodiversity.
EverGraze believes there is potential to substantially increase profit from livestock production while reducing groundwater recharge across the catchment.
Extensive computer modelling indicates that a combination of high performance merino ewes mated to terminal sires, grazing summer-active perennials is likely to meet both the financial and environmental challenges.
In the future farming system being trialled at the 60ha site at Wellstead, summer-active perennial pastures are matched to soil type to ensure persistence and optimise growth and water use. The site is managed as a mini-farm with ewes moved between the different pastures to best use the feed available.
Pastures include lucerne, lucerne/tall fescue, tall fescue, chicory, setaria/panic and kikuyu.
The ewes are stocked at12-14 DSE/ha and aim to achieve high weaning percentages (130%), and lamb growth rates (200 g/day).
Merino ewes selected for high fecundity and fleece value are mated to terminal sires over four weeks in February for a July lambing. Twin and single bearing ewes are run as separate mobs. Ewes are provided with shelter and good feed availability seven days prior to lambing. Lambs are weaned at an average age of 12 weeks and sold at either 40kg liveweight or seven months of age.
Following pasture and site establishment in spring 2005, the experiment began in February 2006 when the ewes were placed on the site. However, since the start of grazing, rainfall has been well below average and the stocking rate was reduced to 10 DSE/ha.
EverGraze is measuring key water, pasture and livestock inputs and outputs to allow further economic and recharge improvements to be made, as well as allowing models to more accurately predict the impact of farm management change to catchment outcomes.
Site Leader is Paul Sanford, Department of Agriculture and Food, WA
T: (08) 9892 8475
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More information is available from the South Coast WA Proof Site brochure.