Working hard to keep the grass green

Working hard to keep the grass green


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DESTOCKING sheep and cattle, and implementing a rotational grazing schedule, has allowed an Ensay farmer to stay on track during this dry year.

DESTOCKING sheep and cattle, and implementing a rotational grazing schedule, has allowed an East Gippsland farmer to stay on track during this dry year.

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The grass may be green on Peter Fraser's Ensay property, but it's taken a lot of hard work to get it through the dry year.

The grass may be green on Peter Fraser's Ensay property, but it's taken a lot of hard work to get it through the dry year.

Peter Fraser has farmed in Ensay for over two decades, and said this year, it barely rained between March and September.

Mr Fraser, who runs 120 Hereford breeders, said he has managed to get by up until this point, but not without sacrifices.

He normally sells his cattle at the annual Mountain Calf Sales at Ensay in March, but said this year could be the first year he doesn’t.

“It would be the first time in 20 years, but if it doesn’t rain, there’s a chance I won’t sell at the Mountain Calf Sales,” Mr Fraser said.

“The way I look at it is, I could sell my calves and put that money in the bank, or I could keep my calves, buy hay, and then have to make up that money I’ve spent when I sell them.”

He said at this point, he hasn’t had to buy any hay.

“Every week I make a decision, whether I buy a truck load of hay or whether I think I can get through another week,” he said.

“I’ve just kept pushing it, thinking I can get away with what I have, and I have, it’s been fine.”

But he said this has only been possible because his numbers are down.

“I’ve destocked in the last couple of months, I got rid of 25 cows, some to the fat market and some privately,” he said.

“In November last year, I also sold the majority of my Dorper sheep to cut down my workload, and that ended up paying off because it got so dry.”

One of Mr Fraser’s most successful management techniques has been grazing on rotation.

“I’m very big on rotational grazing, I don’t let the grass get eaten away,” he said.

“I don’t think a lot of farmers let their country recover enough, so a lot of their grass gets eaten right down, and then it won’t grow.”

He said he learned these lessons from experts at field days he has attended.

“This one person said he used to grow his grass so it was two beer cans high, and then he’d only let it get down to one beer can before he moved his animals on, and now that’s how I do it,” he said.

“I lock the paddocks up, and everytime I get a rain, whether the cows want it or not, I shift them, so the paddock they were in gets a drink.

“We’ve had reasonable rain since September, and there is grass out there, but that’s only because I’ve locked up some paddocks.”

Peter Fraser, Ensay

He said farmers have to be able to manage these dry years.

“We had four or five good years, which was great, and people built their numbers right up, but I just think people have short memories,” he said.

“We had a three-year drought back in the late 1990s, and that was incredibly hard, you just don’t forget about that.”

He said he has weaned his calves early, in case he decides to sell them early.

“We normally wean in January and February for the March sales, but this year I weaned on the 1st of November,” he said.

“If I weaned them when I normally do, I’d be weaning them onto dry grass, because this country will dry out by Christmas, so this way they’re being weaned onto green grass.”

Another problem Mr Fraser said he is facing which is out of his control, is kangaroos.

“Up here we have had a lot of wild dog problems, and we got on top of them with our baiting program, but now we have a monstrous kangaroo problem,” he said.

”There are kangaroos that are living in this country that have never seen the bush, they’ve got smart over the years and have realised our pastures are better than the stuff out in the bush.

“You’re not allowed to shoot them unless you have a permit, and if you said you had 60 ‘roos on your property, they’d only give you a permit to shoot 10; something needs to change.”

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