Friday, 7 December 2012

Cell grazing in the Douglas Daly

Chris and Marie Muldoon from the Douglas Daly region have built a reputation as innovative and sustainable beef producers. They recently sold Midway Station where they cell grazed cattle on improved pasture. Cell grazing is a system of continuously rotating large numbers of stock through small paddocks for short grazing periods followed by long rests. I asked Chris why the family got involved in cell grazing.

“The main reason was to outcompete weeds. Also the cost of fertiliser seemed unsustainable and wasn’t giving us bang for buck. I had done a two day applied grazing course with Terry McCosker (Resource Consulting Services) so we decided to use cattle to produce our fertiliser and keep the grass at an ideal growth phase.”

The Muldoons have found that cell grazing increased use of pasture, increased ground cover and reduced weeds, increased soil health and eliminated fertiliser use, and reduced runoff.

They did this by splitting 1,400ha of improved pasture into 25 paddocks and ran 2,500-3,000 cattle over the wet at about 50 head / ha in a paddock. Each paddock was grazed for about a day in the wet and then spelled for 25 days to recover. “Ideally you want about 30 paddocks and a 30 day recovery in the wet.

“Our paddocks ranged between 20-70ha. It doesn’t matter if they’re a different size. It just means that you leave cattle in the bigger paddocks a bit longer than the smaller ones.”

With cattle being sold, numbers dropped to about 500 by the end of the wet. Paddocks were full of feed at this time. Grazing periods extended out to about 4 days per paddock and more stock were sold over the dry. “Then after about 4 inches of rain a good profile of feed developed and we trucked more cattle in.”

“To change land condition you need to run about 50 beasts / ha in the wet. But you need to manage the cattle well, otherwise you can get terrible results.

“Cattle need to be well behaved. You don’t want them to anticipate a move and stop feeding when you go past. We get around that by walking them to the opposite end of the paddock and then putting them through. They stop following you and instead stay relaxed and keep feeding.
“Cell grazing is not for everyone. You’ve got to have your heart in it otherwise it will cost you a fair bit of money to set up and you won’t get any results. Its intensive work but we enjoy it because we use dogs. Once they’ve educated the cattle you can move a mob of 3,000 by yourself. But if you’re battling with big mobs all the time you probably won’t enjoy it and it won’t work.”

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