Biodiversity in low rainfall grazing systems of South Australia

Encouraging native species in grazing systems in the Upper North of South Australia has provided many benefits in terms of soil health, biodiversity conservation and production.

Achieving and maintaining ground cover is key to making the system work on Neil and Antoinette Sleep’s family property near Peterborough.

Listen to Neil discuss the benefits of maintaining ground cover and increasing biodiversity in the grazing system with Jodie Reseigh from Rural Solutions SA. This project is supported by Upper North Farming Systems, through funding from the Australian Government’s Caring for our Country, Eyre Peninsula NRM Board and Rural Solutions SA.

View the following videos in this series on use of perennial plant species and cell grazing in the low rainfall climate of the Upper North of South Australia:
Perennial shrubs for low rainfall farming.
Establishing perennial shrub pasture
Cell grazing explained
Cell grazing — benefits and challenges

Your place is looking pretty good these days. Yeah, this one’s starting to really recover, Jodie, considering it was probably one of the worst ones we had. It’s looking good now. You’ve got plenty of species diversity. I see you’ve got some wallaby grass. Yeah, we actually only grazed it twice last year so that could deal with seed.

Biodiversity Shown in Wide Variety of Grasses

Yeah, looks like it’s really paid off now. Yeah, even the Stipa look pretty good there, in good condition, all shooting away. Yup, yeah, that’s for sure, there’s a bit of Danthonia that I wasn’t aware was in this paddock so that’s even good when that gets going. Yes, so the other C4s I see you’ve got a bit of  Blackhead grass. Yeah, that’s right and some Aristata and Marianas are starting to come back a bit too.

Oh, okay, and did you say you’ve got windmill grass in this paddock? Yeah a bit of windmill grass, yeah. So you’ve got a real diversity in your paddock. What about your herbs in this paddock, Neal? There’s a few convolvulus. Oh ok, so you’ve seen plenty of pink flowers this year? Yep. Yep. I see there’s a fair few of vittadinias in the paddock too. So, the New Holland Daisy.

Yeah, no they are good here. There’s a bit of chocolate leaf showing in this bit too. Oh, Ok that’s really exciting to see those. Have you seen the yellow lilies? The bulbine lilies? Yeah, this is, they’re here, but, yeah. The chocolate ones declaring last spring? This is curly windmill grass, or antropogen. It’s a C4 summer active grass, hence why it’s looking frosted and dead, because we’re in the middle of winter.

Austrostipa or spear grass; this is Vittadinia or New Holland daisy, one of the daisy bushes that occurs in these pastures. Aristata or brush wire grass, it’s another C4 or summer active native grass. Enneapogon or bottle washers grass, which is a summer active C4 grass. So Neal, some people might say you’ve just got wasted feed here, what would you say in response to that?

No, I wouldn’t agree with it. You gotta have, how this system works you’ve got have ground cover, so it’s a safe feed. Actually grows you more feed in the long run because you get more growth out of less rain, so, yes, I’d have to dispute that. And I guess it also gives you a bit of premium for the next 3 months if we don’t get any rain.

Yes, that’s why we work on that 120 day rest period If it does happen not to rain that time, we have got feed to come back on to, left from the previous growth, so yes. insurance. And it’s also been shown through research that grasses at this stage actually produce much more seed. That’s right, yeah, it’s definitely It’ll get a seed set when it’s already got a head start in the growth.

We very rarely take it down to stage one it always with stage two is when they’ve got to come out. Or else it takes them just way too long to recover. Exactly. Yeah. So, Neil, we’ve got a fair bit of biodiversity in our pastures here. Do you think that’s really important? Oh definitely, yes.

We’ve got to have some grasses growing every month of the year, so there’s no point of having all Summer growing or all winter. Yeah, so you’ve got both C3 , so winter-active species, so there’s Spear Grass and there’s Wallaby Grasses, and so they’re growing mainly in the winter period. but can latch onto that summer rain?

Yeah they definitely respond to a summer rain. We’ve got quite a range of say C4 grasses or summer-active grasses, so you’ve got your Curly Windmill Grass. and your aristata or you brush wire grass and your bottle washers so you’ve got quite a range. Yes, yeah the bottle washers are good ’cause we actually call them ten day grassies ten days in here it really ready to graze after a rain.

Increase in Insects Shows Good Biodiversity

Yep, so that diversity produces a good feed base for all of your stock. Exactly. And that biodiversity also has a really important role in the insects that occur in your pastures? There’s definitely more spiders than we used to have, which I figure is a good thing because they must be eating the bad ones.

The insect eating birds are definitely more here, the ground-dwellers like the stubble quails they’re very common here and they tend to stay all summer instead of disappearing. I’ve noticed an increase in the amount of lizards here especially little lizards and the geckos. There are a lot of geckos here now.

So I’m guessing they’re all eating things that we don’t want. The birds of prey, I’ve seen an increase in them hanging around our property now so I don’t have a problem with that. so these grasslands and grassy ecosystems where you’ve got your trees are really important for that biodiversity conservation.

Not just of your plants, but also your fauna. Yeah, exactly, yeah.