Integrating livestock into arable systems brings significant advantages

// Research

Over 140 farmers attended a recent Beef + Lamb New Zealand and Foundation for Arable Research field day which focused on the integration of livestock into arable systems.


This was the first time the two organisations had joined forces to run a field day which was held on a cropping farm in Mid Canterbury.

New Zealand is one of the few countries in the world where livestock is integrated into arable systems for the mutual benefit of both.

While livestock thrive on grass-seed crops, crop residues and pasture grown in the restorative phase of a cropping rotation, arable farms benefit from livestock-derived nutrients, cashflow, weed control, residue management and improved soil quality due to below ground soil organic matter returns.

Abi Horrocks, a senior researcher with the Foundation for Arable Research (FAR ) says the benefits of integrating livestock into an arable system are made very clear when looking at soil carbon stocks.

Under pasture, soil carbon stocks are 110-140t/ha, under a mixed arable/livestock system they are around 90t/ha, but in soils overseas that have been continuously cropped, they are around 10t/ha.

“This reflects the diverse rotations in New Zealand’s arable systems and the frequent inclusion of restorative phases.”

As many as 93% of FAR farms surveyed had some livestock in their system and other countries are now looking to NZ to learn how livestock benefit arable systems.

Grazing grass-seed crops

Speaking at the field day, FAR’s Research Leader Richard Chynoweth talked about the grazing of seed crops and how with early-sown ryegrass seed crops, there is a lot of opportunity for grazing before the crops are closed up in late spring or at the beginning of stem elongation.

Defoliating crops through grazing in mid-February through to mid-March benefits the crop by stimulating tiller formation. This defoliation can increase seed yields by as much as 20% compared to not grazed grass-seed crops.

“Grazing is always beneficial to ryegrass seed production, but closing dates are important so the growing points are not removed in that spring period.”

This is the opposite to Italian ryegrasses where late grazing will remove the main growing point and increase the number of seed heads and potential yields.

“It’s a really valuable management tool.”

Richard says there is potential to graze cereal crops and it can be beneficial for removing diseased biomass, but it is important to close the crop off before stem extension.

“Between March and June there is probably more potential to graze cereals than we may believe.”

Livestock in arable systems

Farm systems scientist Tom Fraser told attendees that to get the best results from livestock in an arable system, farmers needed to understand and identify the goals for their farm system.

“Are livestock a tool to achieve higher returns for a crop or an alternative income?”

He says the ideal is to incorporate animals into an arable system, without compromising that system, to generate extra income.

He says there are a number of livestock options for arable farmers, and these include prime lamb contracts, grazing replacement ewe hoggets and trading old ewes.

When deciding on stock classes, factors such as crop closure need to be taken into consideration.

“How will you feed your lambs when the crops are closed up?”

He says there are a lot of hill country farmers who struggle to get their ewe lambs up to good weights and he believes there are opportunities for arable farmers to enter into contracts with breeders to grow out their hoggets.

“If you can get alongside a breeder and work out a contract that suits both parties, there are huge opportunities.”

Tom also raised the possibility of arable farmers buying old ewes and putting weight on them before selling them for processing.

The decision of when to sell stock is important to ensure they doesn’t compromise the main goal which will likely be arable production.

North Canterbury vet and B+LNZ Wormwise facilitator Sarah Williams said the biggest risk for arable farmers was buying in resistance with trading lambs. To try and prevent resistance becoming an issue, a quarantine protocol, rather than just a quarantine drench, should be adopted.

This could include giving the lambs a fully effective combination of Zolvix Plus and Startect (given separately not mixed together) then the stock held in a holding area for 24 hours to empty out any residual worm eggs.

Ideally, finishers should find out where the lambs have come from and that farm’s drench resistance status.

Ten to 14 days after the quarantine drench, a Faecal Egg Count (FEC) will show whether that drench had been effective.

“That’s just risk management. If the quarantine drench hasn’t worked then you get to fix the problem quickly.”

Find out more

For more information about internal parasite management, go to this Knowledge search and see our Wormwise – Worm Management Strategy.

Look out for Wormwise workshops in your region or contact your B+LNZ Extension Manager to request one.