Cell Grazing System in Low Rainfall Areas
Neil and Antoinette Sleep and their family manage a 3,600 ha grazing property near Peterborough in the Upper North of South Australia.
Their cell grazing system is managed to achieve a strong perennial plant base. Since implementing the system, sheep carry capacity has increased 17%, stock condition is more even throughout the year and they are saving 14 days per year in stock movement activities. 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 semi arid climate of the Upper North of South Australia:
Perennial shrubs for low rainfall farming.
Establishing perennial shrub pasture
Cell grazing explained
Biodiversity in low rainfall grazing systems of South Australia
We got 3,600 hectares out here, We run self-grazing Replacing Merino Ewes, and the oldest ewes go back to first cross white Suffolk. The rainfall out here ranges from about 312 mil to probably 280. The pasture mix is definitely increasing because we’ve given the country more spell it’s getting a rest of 120 days, 3 times a year. There’s definitely some of the grasses, which I didn’t know were here, are starting to come back.
Improved Ground Cover
We’ve increased the ground cover from probably less than 50 percent, I’m guessing out around 70 to 80 now. Rainfall is more valued to us now because we’ve got more cover. 10 mil of rain will give us feed now where once it used to just run away. We’re aiming more towards a perennial pasture base now. The annuals are born a part of it. We’re only grazing four days maximum at any time. In winter time we do we close up a bit if we go up for spring, more than winter probably, when we’ve got active growing, we may become better, 90 to 100 days rest.
The Salt bush, we’ve actually got 230 hectares of that planted now into 17 paddocks. It’s a good stop gap if we look like we’re running short on feed anywhere, we can shove a mob in twelve hectares of around eight hundred DSE and there’s about ten days’ feed. We’ve made the stocking rate from about 1.8 hectares per DSE down to probably 1.4 or a bit less. Overall we’ve increased our numbers at this stage by 17 percent, and we’ve definitely got more food and I haven’t hand-fed anything since we started.
Improved Consistency in Stock Condition
Stock condition probably is more even now. Now we seem to be hold of about score 3 , 12 months of the year rather than having down to one and up to five. Lambing % hasn’t changed at all. In cell grazing, the first thing that everyone says is it takes you a lot of time to move the sheep, but it all worked out. It’s actually saving me about 14 rain days per year, still grazing against the old method. They’re all in the yard within half an hour where it used to take probably 3 or 4 days for mustering shearing crutching and lamb marking before.
We drift move during the lambing which is just open the gate in front and they move themselves through over a period of a couple of days. They’ve become much quieter. They look for me now to open the gate rather than run away, which has made sheephandling much easier. The dogs are basically retired. Some of the main challenges was the initial outlay of the cost of the fencing and the water.
We did receive some funding for some of it to protect the native grass type country. We’re probably now about seven years in we’re probably going to cover the cost of the wire and the water anyway, with the increase to stock numbers. The biggest challenge we’ve had just the stigma thing of being out there on your own. It’s something new in the area and no real local support, except from the PIRSA boys and girls.
Cell Grazing – No Regrets
The cell grazing system is definitely here to stay. I don’t have any regrets about doing it.