AT Te Mania Angus, the benefits of biological farming are literally walking the talk, with significant improvements in animal health being recorded in their herd.
The 12-year transition to alternative farming stemmed from poor responses from conventional fertilisers, which principal Tom Gubbins said sparked an operational shift in the attitude to growing grass.
"We have come away from a reliance on soluble-based fertiliser and we are now developing a biological-based program which feeds the plants that we grow for our cattle through the original food root of the plant rather than the water root," he said.
"This means a plant grows at a rate that is conducive to taking in all the minerals that are required for it to grow correctly and is more likely to feed the animals that graze on it to their full mineral satisfaction as well."
The push into biological farming practices came 12 years ago due to a lack of cation exchange in their sandy soil at the Colac property and an ensuing lack of results.
"We basically started using biological fertiliser from necessity and the property responded," Mr Gubbins said.
"We seem to be working with the system and it is rewarding us for it."
The 2564-hectare Mortlake property has recorded soil and plant health improvements as well as animal health advantages.
While Te Mania averages 15DSE/ha, the property is divided into 15ha paddocks as part of its intensive grazing management plan and is grazed on average for three days with 600 cows, then rested until perennial pastures have grown to the three-leaf stage.
Mr Gubbins said good grazing management was important to ensure perennial pasture recovery.
"Once the plant is at the three-leaf stage it starts to penetrate the sugar down into the soil, which links up with the biology and plant roots working in symbiosis," he said.
"To get that happening really well, perennial pastures need to be rested so they can put down sugar in their roots and encourage that biology to function in and around the roots.
"In a set stocking situation, the plants don't get that rest so they don't get as favourable biological activity.
"We are seeing a better balance in magnesium and calcium and other vital trace elements – because things are living healthier below the soil and feeding the plant, the animals that live off the plant are also healthy."
The property has steered away from muriate of potash, minimised super use, removed di-ammonium phosphate and reduced mono-ammonium phosphate.
"Sometimes we do things that are harmful to the soil's bacteria," Mr Gubbins said.
"We need to be mindful and give it time to repair or put something back into the system that helps recuperate it from the damage we've caused.
"I'm not a hell-bent organic farmer but I am trying to use the biology to help us get as much as we can from the resources we have available."
Mr Gubbins said the biology management aimed to develop a cluster of favourable bacteria and fungus around the roots of the plants, while those bacteria harnessed from the soil important trace elements that the bacteria required to live.
He said the improvement in their herd health had convinced him to persist.
"The animals don't tend to get as poor in the winter months, when there is not enough fibre in the diet; their coat colours are shiny and the animals are doing very well," he said.
"We are gradually heading in the direction, using chemistry and the tools we know about to incorporate this knowledge to improve our plant production and animal health."
However, with minimal research and an abundance of "snake oil salesman", Mr Gubbins said the outcomes were subjective, with several unknowns.
Mr Gubbins will be holding an on-farm field day as part of the 2013 South West Soil Conference at Warrnambool which will focus on soil health and how agricultural activities can affect its ability to make a profit.
To be held on September 4-5, the event will provide practical hands-on information to assist farmers and service providers to work towards improved soils.
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