Livestock key in regenerative farming

Transitioning to rotational grazing on mixed-species pastures

Beef
Ben and Jane Reid, with daughter Lani, 2, at their Young property. The Reids are transitioning to rotationally grazing their stock on mixed-species pastures.

Ben and Jane Reid, with daughter Lani, 2, at their Young property. The Reids are transitioning to rotationally grazing their stock on mixed-species pastures.

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Producers at Young plan to sequester carbon through diversifying pastures.

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Livestock operations are often positioned as having a negative impact on the environment but some argue livestock forms an integral part of regenerative farming.

Ben and Jane Reid, Young have begun to transition from a traditional mixed-farming operation to solely livestock, now running their 2000 first-cross ewes and 170 Hereford cows under the principals of regenerative agriculture, rotationally grazing their stock on mixed-species pastures.

Mrs Reid said there had been a lot of misinformation put out recently on the role of livestock in climate change.

"If you're using a regenerative system, livestock play a really important role in terms of improving soil health and also in terms of enabling plants to sequester more carbon," she said.

The Reids said manure from cattle and sheep would improve soil nutrition, while adding diversity to their pastures would improve fertility, both leading to increased carbon levels in their soil.

Mr Reid said he believed the negative impacts of grazing animals, such as desertification, could be managed by prioritising ground cover.

He said to maintain their own ground cover they were in the process of converting 40 paddocks to 80, to allow for more rotational grazing, resting paddocks for three to six months at a time.

They had also used containment lots during the drought.

"For us the decision is simple, either sell livestock or move them to containment lots when ground cover is at a certain level, but never bare your country to a point where it is susceptible to wind erosion," Mr Reid said.

He said he believed that the government should incentivise growers to prioritise ground cover.

"In the building industry we we have 'Code of Conduct,' its almost like in the farming industry we need a 'Code of Conduct,'" Mr Reid said.

"It's to everyone's detriment that soil health, structure and ground cover needs to be maintained.

"We've just been through a shocking drought, but I drive around the country and desertification is such a real issue, especially when you think about how much top-soil we've lost recently.

"I know the government are looking at ways in which farmers can be rewarded for looking after their country.

"We have the technology today to monitor ground cover via satellite technology and a rewards system to incentivise ground cover is critical to encourage more farmers to follow suit."

The Reids plan to rest paddocks for three to six months at a time to ensure groundcover.

The Reids plan to rest paddocks for three to six months at a time to ensure groundcover.

Moving away from monoculture farming 

To help improve their ground cover and feed sources, the Reids decided to plant the unconventional seed mix of wheat, oats and canola for grazing crops this year.

Mr Reid said from a big-picture perspective this decision was made in order to increase biodiversity in their farming system.

"Monoculture farming is something we want to move away from," Mr Reid said.

"Plant biodiversity is good for animal health, soil health, microbial activity and disease management.

"We're not exclusively going into the organic space, but we will try and move away from using chemicals.

"We're not concerned about what else comes up in our grazing crops, whether it be clover, ryegrass or other, as it's all food for livestock."

He said from a more practical sense the decision to use this particular mix of grazing crops was made in order to get feed up as quick as possible following the drought.

"This year we needed to put multi-species crops in because we have such a feed deficit," Mr Reid said.

"We need to get some highly autumn and winter active plants in the ground so we can get some feed up by around April.

"They're all early plant varieties and without them we would be waiting for the conventional winter species, sub clovers, Phalaris, ryegrass, that typically don't get going until May, June, July."

He said one of their properties did receive some summer rain so the first 50 hectares of the wheat, oats and canola mix was planted in mid-February into moisture.

The other 60 hectares was dry-sown in the last week.

"Hopefully we will get some rain to let it germinate and get away," Mr Reid said.

Will undertaking regenerative practices be economical? 

Mr Reid said he did not believe they would take an economic hit by transitioning their business into a solely livestock model, run under regenerative practices.

"I might be looking at this through rose-coloured glasses but ultimately what we're looking to do is not significantly different to before," Mr Reid said.

"We're just going to rest country more, we're going to ensure there's always ground cover, we're not going to grow monoculture crops.

"We're going to reduce our overheads because we're not going to have chemical needs, nitrogen and phosphorous fertiliser needs.

"We'll forgo an income from the sale of grain but we are able to consume the feed of those grazing crops we are planting."

He said when he did a budget of kilograms of meat per hectare produced verse kilograms of grain per hectare produced, there was very little difference at the moment in their area because of the strong red meat prices.

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