A series of regional case-studies is tracking sheep and beef farmers as they navigate their way through winter and spring. Working alongside farm consultants, the case studies outline the decisions made by the farmers every six weeks and the implications of those decisions on the farm system and the bottom line.
Southland: Russell and Janine Drummond
Southland farmers Russell and Janine Drummond farm 810ha of rolling country west of Winton.
Their farm is a breeding and finishing property with 250ha of over-sown tussock while the balance has been developed. The developed area ranges from steep to easy rolling. Lambing percentages sit at around 140% and calving 90%.
Poor winter crop yields coupled with COVID-19-related lamb processing delays meant that going into winter, the Drummonds were looking at significant feed deficits.
In April, farm consultant Simon Glennie from AbabcusBio Ltd crunched the numbers and ran different management scenarios through Farmax. As the couple had been using Farmax for several years, he had historical data to draw on. Simon calculated a 200t DM deficit going into spring if standard management practices were followed. To address the deficit, the Drummonds applied nitrogen in autumn and delayed ewe mating by three days. They debated not mating their 1700 hoggets, but chose to go ahead as the cost of not mating them was going to be around 960 lambs, which is significant.
Favourable autumn conditions meant that ewes were in very good condition leading up to mating. A managed restriction to ewe feeding along with nitrogen and delayed mating reduced the expected deficit to 25t.
- Lambs processed earlier than expected in April and May, however May pasture growth was below expectations.
- Review of winter crop yields reinforced that they were poor relative to normal yields.
- Doing nothing would mean a 150t feed deficit in spring, which would impact on lactation and pre-weaning growth rates. This could cost the business $40-$80k.
- Hogget mating was delayed and expectations of the hoggets reduced from 1000 to 900 lambs (helped reduce the deficit to 133t DM).
- Dry hoggets to be grazed off-farm for 14 weeks after scanning in mid-August. This will cost around $14k (grazing plus cartage) but reduces feed deficit by 50t.
- Nitrogen to be applied to 140ha in mid-August. This will cost $9,800 but will generate 70t of additional feed.
- Pasture growth expectations in August have been increased from 8kgDM/ha/day to 10kgDM/ha/day due to the very healthy state of the pastures.
Off-farm grazing hoggets and addition applications of nitrogen will cost $25-$30k, but off-farm grazing will free up space for lambing livestock, meaning a better result in spring.