Burned pastures springing back

Bushfire-impacted producers should act now says LLS

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Riverina LLS senior officer, Lisa Castleman identifying weeds at an Oberne recovery information session. Pictured with Central West LLS senior officer, Brett Littler and Oberne producers Wayne Lewis (left) and Ty Hardy (right).

Riverina LLS senior officer, Lisa Castleman identifying weeds at an Oberne recovery information session. Pictured with Central West LLS senior officer, Brett Littler and Oberne producers Wayne Lewis (left) and Ty Hardy (right).

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Livestock producers on the road to recovery after fires.

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While we are all focused on the latest crisis to hit the country, coronavirus, many producers are still dealing daily with the fallout from the bushfires.

Recovery information sessions were held across bushfire affected regions in the past couple of weeks to give producers practical advice on pasture recovery, weed identification and grazing management.

Central Tablelands LLS senior officer, Brett Littler had been directly involved in the 2013 Coonabarabran and 2017 Sir Ivan fire.

He said one of the key messages he learnt was the importance of producers having a recovery plan.

"After a fire farmers are hectic, they're busy but they really need to have a plan," Mr Littler advised.

He said assessing the feed, water and infrastructure producers have left and available was crucial.

Pasture recovering but so are the weeds

One of the steps of accounting for what is left is working out whether pastures that were burnt will recover or not.

Riverina LLS senior officer and Ag Services agronomist, Lisa Castleman said phalaris pastures and native grasses, in particular, were recovering well.

"Due to the timeliness of the two major rainfall events we've had and because ground temperatures are really warm, the pastures are growing away quickly and there has also been a good strike of sub-clover," Ms Castleman said.

Ms Castleman said the good-growing conditions also meant weeds were appearing in burnt country, some of which were nutritious, while others raised animal health concerns.

"We're telling producers not to stop feeding in confinement too soon. Some of the broadleaf weeds have high nitrate levels which are toxic if stock are hungry," Ms Castleman said.

She said the last thing producers wanted was to lose stock which had survived the bushfire and had been fed for months on end.

Animals could also lose weight quickly if they changed from a good maintenance ration feed, to a young, short pasture that contained a high level of water and had no bulk or sufficient feed on offer.

"How much rain you have had since the bushfires will determine how well your pastures are recovering, it could take three to six weeks before you have sufficient pasture to graze," Ms Castleman said.

Take the opportunity to sow feed now

She encouraged growers to plant forage mixes or grazing crops in the near future to make the most of optimal growing conditions, even if that meant forgoing usual fertiliser regimes due to time or cash-flow restrictions.

"If you have more broadleaf weeds or more bare ground than recovering pasture, act quickly to get in something useful," Ms Castleman encouraged.

She said hill country and ridgelines had burned hotter and a layer of ash still covered some of these areas.

"Those paddocks have been severely impacted. Fires can get up to 400 degrees in places where there was Eucalypt canopies overhead," she said.

"Where there is still a blanket of ash sitting on the ground, seeds or crowns are unable to get exposure to the sunlight and moisture needed to recover."

What should you look to sell

Mr Littler said if producers realised they didn't have enough feed and needed to sell some of their breeding stock, they should look to their bottom performers instead of culling a certain age group.

"Keep the animals which will make you money," Mr Littler said.

"You should be scanning sheep and cattle and working out which ones are pregnant, look to keep the early-conceived ewes or cows and cull the late ones."

He said adjistment was another option for producers, but they needed to do their due diligence.

"There has been rain in a lot of areas but talk to Local Land Services vets and find out what animal health issues there might be in some places," Mr Littler said.

"There's no use sending animals away and it being a disaster because of a pest or disease. The local cattle might handle it fine, but if we bring animals in that might be 'naive', it becomes an issue."

Producer perspective

Ty Hardy runs a herd of about 200 Simmental cattle and lost some of his back country paddocks in the fires at Oberne, near Tarcutta.

He said losing those paddocks had put pressure on the feed and water he had available on the rest of his property.

"It just put my program out of whack," Mr Hardy said.

"I put my cattle into one mob and started rotating them from the front to the back of the property, moving them every four weeks.

"I also had to manage some dams going empty, our intake of water doubled because we were using it to try and save paddocks, and livestock drink more water when it's hot and smokey."

He said he ended up selling around 50 younger steers that he would normally finish but knew he wanted to hold on to his females, even though prices had "gone ballistic".

"I have a mix of autumn and spring calvers that I am looking to take all the way through," Mr Hardy said.

Mr Hardy planned to sow a mixture of rye grass and oats to get some quick feed up for winter.

"We're starting to see a green pick come up, but like everyone else, we call it a green drought," Mr Hardy said.

He said the weeds were coming up quick, particularly marshmallow and Bathurst burrs.

"Especially where they graded the fire breaks, nine times out of 10 that's where we see a large germination of weeds," Mr Hardy said.

The recovery information sessions were hosted by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), its subsidiary Integrity Systems Company, NSW Department of Primary Industries and NSW Local Land Services with support from industry partners.

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