Sacrificing a couple of paddocks for drought feeding will pay off across the farm with ground cover retained and nutrient levels boosted.
East Gippsland-based soil and plant nutrition adviser, Norm King, said the chance of heavy rain falls after dry conditions meant decisions had to focus on looking after paddock top soil.
“Every decision has to be made to hold on to 100 per cent groundcover, he said.”
“Gippsland soils are so old and weathered, so the erratic rainfall isn’t helpful,” he said.
“The average rainfall is 660mm, but you can get extended dry spells that break with 250-300mm of rain.
“We’ve probably been in this dry spell since July and many farmers will have backup plans.”
He recommended sacrificing a small area of the farm for drought feeding, to preserve the remainder.
“The offset of this is that sacrifice paddocks are left with increased nutrients from the manure and urine of keeping so many animals in that area,” Mr King said.
“If animals are allowed to roam throughout the farm, groundcover is removed or very patchy. When a large rain event does come through, topsoil is swept away in runoff water, with off site impacts, carrying phosphorous and nitrogen into creeks and rivers – and the Gippsland Lakes system.
“When you hold onto topsoil, the benefits include increased filtration, increased plant available water capacity, you maintain the soil structure and tilth and maintain cation exchange capacity, which is a buffer against acidification.
“t’s also a food source for micro-organisms.”
Mr King said that even after rain farmers needed to keep livestock off the sacrifice paddocks, even as young, green pasture shoots out of the ground on the remainder of the rested farm.
“Regrowth of weeds and perennials has to create 2000 kilograms of dry matter/hectare before grazing,” he said.
“Know the forecast for rain, so you don’t overgraze, and retain a good, solid groundcover,” Mr King said.
Recovery options included holding onto core breeding livestock, sourcing good quality fodder to support drought feeding strategies and ensuring topsoil was protected.
As home-grown fodder stores deplete, Mr King advises seeking hay, silage and grain from reputable sources, with a mindset of buying good quality feed and reducing the risk of weed infestation.
“Now is the time to sow summer crops such as millet or sorghum, which will help prepare and hold on to soil now for autumn.”