Thursday, 3 July 2008

Planning to Bring Livestock onto Ochre Arch

We have been considering a range of options for bringing livestock onto Ochre Arch. In the end we opted for agistment to kick things off. Basically this means we will get paid an amount each week per animal and from a business perspective are effectively selling access to pasture grass.

Some of the pros and cons of agistment include:


  • Payment is received (generally) monthly and in advance so payment and cash flow is certain
  • We will be controlling stock moves, and thus also their impact on our land to ensure it is consistent with our goals
  • We have (conceptually anyway) very high flexibility around stock numbers and duration
  • We are not responsible for carrying major activities with the stock other than moves. With sheep, for example, these would include shearing, crutching, fly and other insect control measures, lamb marking, animal buying and selling
  • We don't have to allocate funds to acquiring and owning the animals
  • There is a strong incentive for the owners of the stock to work closely with us, a benefit of which is that both parties learn from each others' knowledge and experience
  • Flowing from the above, social interaction benefits

  • Less financial return. No share of the profits ... or the losses should they occur, either!
  • Reduced control over how certain aspects of the stock are managed
  • As the stock are moved onto our place from other areas they may bring with them unwanted weed seeds, pests and diseases
With the above in mind we reached agreement with Paul & Linda from Young that they would supply sheep onto Ochre Arch. Both we and Paul & Linda are of the view that in the long run if managed correctly cattle are the best type of herding animal to run to improve pasture. The main factors taking us to this conclusion are:
  • Cattle have 5 stomachs and (arguably) produce the best quality manure which in turn stimulates the soil microfauna extremely well. Some argue that the high fertility of the prairies in the USA is directly attributable to the impact of the Bison over many centuries. I've also read that the reason the Hindus treat cattle as sacred is attributable to this feature, with them believing that the bulk of a beasts mental energy goes into running its complex digestive system.
  • Cattle have the ability to spread seed through its digestive system more effectively than sheep
  • Cattle have the ability to create more powerful hoof impact, in turn breaking capped soil more effectively.
  • Cattle also graze very differently than sheep, using their tongues to break off the grass rather than nipping and nibbling at ground level with their teeth. By so doing cattle leave more leaf matter, in turn leaving more 'solar panels' to continue to capture and convert solar energy into plant herbage mass through photosynthesis.
Despite the above we were very comfortable accepting sheep from Paul and Linda given Ochre Arch has good sheep yards and no cattle handling facilities.

The key step in determining how many stock we could run was to estimate both total available feed on the farm and livestock feed requirements. The steps involved in this included:

  • On a paddock by paddock basis working out how many square metres it would take to fill a plastic shopping bag with grass based on present grass cover. This equates to roughly 1 kg of herbage mass or enough to feed a 50 kg wether (castrated male sheep) for 1 day. In livestock management terms a 50 kg wether is classed as 1 'dry sheep equivalent' or DSE.
  • Based on the class of livestock being agisted, work out how may 'dry sheep equivalents' each needs per day. Some of the factors which are taken into account to determine 'dry sheep equivalents' include animal type (sheep, cattle, goats etc), body weight, pregnant or lactating, and number of offspring at foot
  • Using both of the above numbers calculate number of animals that could be theoretically fed for one day on the total property, broken down by paddock.
  • Based on the proposed number of animals to be supplied, calculate how many days they could be fed from the existing pasture assuming no pasture growth
  • Adjust animal numbers such that (assuming no growth in pasture) the animals would have enough feed for the planned duration of the agreed agistment term plus a margin.

When we carried out the above calculation Paul and Linda were considering bringing 50 kg wethers onto Ochre Arch. As mentioned above, these animals are each equal to one 'dry sheep equivalent'. The four of us went to each of the paddocks on Ochre Arch and came up with the following figures:

Paddock, Area (ha), Sq m / 1 animal day, Total animal days, Days grazing - 3,000 animals
Front, 9, 16, 5,625, 1.9
Duck Dam, 15, 4, 37,500, 12.5
Forgotten, 19, 9, 21,111, 7.7
Contour, 40, 9, 44,444, 14.8
Middle Hill, 38, 25, 15,200, 5.1
Spring, 45, 4, 112,500, 37.5
Plateau, 69, 4, 172,500, 57.5
Native Pasture, 49, 9, 54,444, 18.1
Lookout Rock, 105, 100, 10,500, 3.5
Total, 389, 8.2, 473,824, 158.6

The figure of 473,824 theoretically means that there was enough pasture grass on Ochre Arch to feed 473,824 50 kg wethers for 1 day. Looking at this another way, theoretically there was enough grass for:

  • 1,000 wethers for 473 days, or
  • 3,000 wethers for 158 days

We are determined not to have to substitute feed (provide feed such as hay or grain as a substitute for pasture grass) animals on Ochre Arch, and also wanted to make sure there was a large conservative margin for error in our feed and consumption calculations. We also want to have large numbers of animals to achieve the benefits of animal impact.

In the end we agreed that Paul and Linda would supply 3,000 wethers for 90 days on the understanding that we would monitor available feed and that numbers would be reduced if and when necessary to ensure we did not have to substitute feed.

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