Inherent resilience in biodiverse perennial pastures

image of cattle on Tallawang
Tallawang.
Read Craig’s own experience of how the resilience in his pastures as a result of his regenerative farming practices enabled him to effectively manage the climate extremes experienced at the beginning of 2013.

 

 

On 19 February, Nicky and I had the pleasure of attending a workshop with the self confessed lunatic farmer Joel Salatin [of Polyface Farms in the USA]. It was a refreshing insight into his views on a wide range of matters that are pretty pertinent to what we are trying to achieve at Tallawang.

One of the more insightful remarks was to consider all non-growing periods as dormant times and not try to give them different names according to the season or amount of rainfall you have received – very much in the keep it simple mode. This really applies to perennial systems as a failed “crop” of annuals is a failed crop.

 

Those who have read our case study on the Soils for Life site will be familiar with the focus that we have on perennial grasses and rainfall.

This past six to eight months months has been challenging period as the winter rains provided a kickstart for the grasses but no follow up rain left them in a dormant state for much of spring and the first month or so of summer. Our rolling rainfall didn’t drop below average until November when it fell off a cliff picked up again in December but searing heat and wind terminated all but the hardiest of annuals. From a livestock point of view it was time to consider destocking if no significant rain fell in January.

image of cattle on Tallawang

Stock numbers on Tallawang are adjusted according to fodder availability

To paint the picture, the only green bits on Tallawang were the vege patch (constant watering from the Chief Vege Person) and the well hydrated creek flats that were copping a punishing as we were trying to hold condition on cattle for sale.

The week leading up to Australia Day was cruel – one night down to 37 degrees. Then Cyclone Oswald arrived – bringing 199 mm of rain followed up by a further 25mm. A significant flood and much re-fencing. However, the key result was an explosion of grass.


image of young tree in pastureRegenerating Eucalyptus albens Grasses that had been dozing since October like the Tall Oat grass, Kangaroo Grass and Qld Blue woke from their heat- and dry-induced snooze, Bothriachloa Biloba and Silky brown top (later starters) shot up and we now have a sward of highly productive and diverse pastures. First off the block were annual grasses like Liverseed, paspalum and Barnyard grass and a range of forbs, however, within three weeks of the rain the perennial grasses and native legumes had grown fast enough to start adding lots of compensatory kilos on to the cows to make up for the weight stability or reduction that had been sustained during November and December.Our response to this fast growing sward of pasture has been to accelerate our rotation between paddocks from once every day and a half, where we were trying to give the pasture as much rest as we could to moving twice a day morning and night.

We have purchased additional stock to match our capacity and keep the grass in a state of constant growth.

What is the message? We have built significant resilience into our landscape and this can only come about with a very diverse range of grasses, herbs, legumes and forbs and well hydrated landscape. This resilience enabled fabulous recovery of the landscape putting us in the position to be able to buy in stock whilst many in our district were waiting for the grass to grow. The broader the range of perennials the better ground cover and the earlier you have saleable cattle. And this is all done with no purchased inputs.


image of poor and degraded pasture with bare soil visible image of thriving and diverse pastures

Degraded pastures on Tallawang when Craig bought the property (left) have been regenerated to biodiverse and resilient perennial pastures through his grazing management practices (right).

 

Read the Tallawang case study to learn how Craig and and his partner, Nicky, built this resilience in their landscape.

Questions for Craig? Any thoughts? Click on 'Comments' below and let us know.

The Soils for Life Team