Novel harvesting method for Pine Grove farmer

Pine Grove producer applies "cropping brain" to cattle | VIDEO

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Pine Grover seed grower has two types of harvester on his property.

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FOUR LEGGED HARVESTERS: Grant Sims, Pine Grove, with some of the cattle, he calls "four legged harvesters."

FOUR LEGGED HARVESTERS: Grant Sims, Pine Grove, with some of the cattle, he calls "four legged harvesters."

Pine Grove seed and beef producer Grant Sims says he has two kinds of harvester on the family property - the regular green one and a black, four-legged variety.

A sixth-generation farmer at Pine Grove, just south of Echuca, Mr Sims and wife Naomi recently decided to make better use of the stubbles, left behind after harvesting seed for their Down Under Covers operation.

They'd reintroduced livestock to the 3500-hectare farm in 2016, after shifting away from sheep to a cropping operation, focussing on a controlled traffic strip and disc system, with full stubble retention.

The Sims soon realised the potential for their first 50 Angus heifers, to add significant value to Down Under Covers.

"As part of our cropping rotation, to build soil health, we began planting multi species cover crops," Mr Sims said.

'We soon found we could grow large amounts of biomass whilst improving our soils at a low cost.

The cattle were run on multi-species forage crops, including 13 or more species carefully designed for soil health and live weight gains.

"We worked out we could harvest crops with a four-legged harvester, which is an appreciating asset, rather than a big green one, that depreciates in value," Mr Sims said.

SALE SUCCESS: The Sims met with success, at the Yea sale, with this draft of Angus steers.

SALE SUCCESS: The Sims met with success, at the Yea sale, with this draft of Angus steers.

That paid huge dividends at the September Yea store sale, when they sold 61 Angus steers, for an average of 534cents/kilogram.

Their pen of 14 steers, 209kg, sold for $1310, or 627c/kg.

Mr Sims says he'll be sending another draft to the next monthly Yea sale, in October.

The pastures the cattle graze on are made up of legumes, peas, vetch, clover and some brassicas, radishes, turnips, kale, rape, cereals and grasses - "the more, the merrier.

"When grazed on these multi-species forages we see huge improvements in live weight gains animal health and temperament,' Mr Sims said.

"Most days the animals are all laying around by lunchtime when on these mixes.

"The way we look at it, they are eating a smorgasbord, they are going to a salad bar buffet, every day."

The animals were eating a more balanced, dense minerally diet, so were less trouble to handle.

"We strip graze with high intensity for short intervals on rotation, making sure we maintain ground cover,' he said.

'If the soil needs repairing, we will aim for maximum growth before grazing and use the animals as a tool to graze this and trample some of the growth in.

'This can give us great results for the paddock the following year along with good live weight gains in the process."

When the calves are weaned the cows go on the "stripper stubbles" over the summer to help cycle the carbon to nitrogen ratio.

"We sometimes under sow our cereals with clovers, this can achieve great feed value as flag leaf is still intact on stubble when we use the stripper front.

"We also chaff line and have measured nine per cent protein in chaff lines from small grains and weed seeds and stubbles, as all flag leaf is still intact, as only the grain has been removed."

The farm also used bio-fermented liquid fertilisers, made up of all the major and trace elements required to balance soil and plants.

"It's delivered at sowing, through liquid injection along with a carbon source and many forms of biology to feed the microbes in our soil.

"We will also foliar spray based on tissue tests where required to fix things that maybe lacking."

At the moment, the Sims are running 360 cows and 200 calves but plan on holding back 300 head for the next few years, to see how they go.

Neighbours Angus studs Phoenix Park and Merridale, supplied bulls and genetics.

"They're very well known and a good resource," he said.

"We started trading cattle of any colour, just to build our numbers, although we were only breeding with Angus.

INNOVATIVE FARMER: Grant Sims, Pine Grove, with some of his cattle.

INNOVATIVE FARMER: Grant Sims, Pine Grove, with some of his cattle.

"When we got our numbers up everything we sold was replaced with Angus."

He said he had applied his "cropping brain" to producing beef cattle.

"When we are in our harvesting equipment, we have yield monitors - when you look at the animals as four legged harvesters, the yield monitor is the crush and with scales," he said.

"We look for temperament along with the top percentage in growth rates.

"When we have our herd fine-tuned a bit more, we will start looking at finer key traits like marbling.

Cows are joined for eight-week calving, starting in March, so the Sims can get most of that out of the way before sowing crops.

"We put two bulls per 50 cows, split into three herds using a staggered AI over heifers and top cows to help ease bull power.

"We may load up on the bulls in a herd for the first three weeks and we use multiple sires from the one stud, ideally varying in age, to help to try and avoid fighting."

Heifers go on the best feed and only those which are performing, or have a good temperament, are joined.

Pregnancy testing starts around 12-16 weeks, with empties being culled.

"This year it was under 10 per cent," Mr Sims said.

Calves were weaned around 350kg, but this year they came off their mothers early, due to the high prices.

The Sims use various sales methods, including over the hooks, online and in through the yards.

" We watch what demand is happening for different size animals and are not afraid to let them go or hold on then send them over to where we think is best to get good results."

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