Forage budgeting in the Fitzroy
In 2019, graziers Frank Ellrott and Alisson McMaster contacted CHRRUP to participate in the Forage Budgeting in the Fitzroy project with the aim of learning more about forage budgeting and how to apply it to their Nankin district property, Sleipner. The Forage Budgeting in the Fitzroy project is funded through the Queensland Government’s Reef Water Quality Program and provides graziers with a forage budgeting service, delivered by fellow graziers.
About the property
For 170 years, The Ellrott family has retained ownership and responsibility for the management of Sleipner, which is a 1,600ha property just off the Emu Park - Rockhampton Road. Sleipner has the Berserker Range (Mt Archer) to the north and the Fitzroy River hugging Flat Top Range to its south. Rainfall from these ranges is channelled into Stoney and Nankin creeks that junction on Sleipner and then drains out onto the Fitzroy River floodplain. The topography of Sleipner is dominated by grassed hills and forested ranges running down to now open alluvial creek flats.
initial forage budget visit
According to the ground cover report for Sleipner accessed from www.longpaddock.qld.gov.au, in excess of 70% groundcover over 90% of the property has been maintained since 1990. At the time of the forage budgeting service visit, there was in excess of 90% groundcover over 95% of the property.
At the time of the initial visit in 2019, Frank and Alisson were reassessing the set stocking grazing system that had been in place for many years. Bringing about change can be challenging when existing processes have been in place for multiple generations and the support of the peer grazier in the initial forage budgeting visit and subsequent follow up has assisted in identifying the importance of introducing rest periods into paddocks.
Some 300 breeding females and their progeny had been considered an appropriate stocking rate across the property and while groundcover was satisfactory, the dry season in 2019 was suppressing forage supply and the mix of grass species was considered less than desirable.
Frank and Alisson had been resting some areas but most of the property was still in a set stocking system with multiple mobs scattered throughout the nine available paddocks. This regime was not allowing sufficient rest from grazing pressure. The result was a rundown in preferred perennial grasses and couch was becoming well established. Couch is a valuable ground cover and can be a source of quality feed for a short period, but it does not set down deep roots and is therefore not considered a preferred pasture grass for improving land condition.
The set stocking rate system requires accurate carrying capacity assessments of each paddock throughout the year. While this grazing system can lead to paddocks being understocked, more commonly it results in at least some areas of the paddock being subject to overgrazing.
Further discussions centred around ways to introduce substantial rest periods to paddocks which would allow pasture to recover before stock were reintroduced. Existing property infrastructure included nine paddocks with good stock water. Frank and Alisson decided to put all the breeding females in one mob which as a standalone measure introduced 500% more rest into paddocks. At first this was a challenging concept, but it required no capital expenditure and utilised existing property resources.
the impact of the service
The strong intent and persistence shown by Frank and Alisson has paid off. A project follow-up visit in 2022 showed that the country had responded to the recent late seasonal rainfall, which is a good indication of the positive changes to grazing management. The temperament of the cattle has also been reported to have changed for the better. “Seeing is believing”, says Frank. “We are enjoying the positive change in the cow's behaviour and the way that the country has responded to our management. It’s rather simple really”.
Allison says, “It’s just unbelievable really, that by putting the cows in a bigger mob and giving the country more rest, that the country has responded the way it has”.
“We had been hearing about rest and rotation for a number of years through different forums. You can hear the same story plenty of times and make no change, then one day someone says it a particular way, it clicks, and we find ourselves doing what we have to do to bring about what we want, and that’s what happened here.”
CHRRUP has provided Alisson with a RASH (Rapid Assessment of Soil Heath) kit. She and Frank are keen to understand the soil properties on Sleipner, especially its capacity for infiltration of the 976mm of average rainfall. The increase in ground cover and presence of desirable perennial grasses will have a positive impact and Frank is considering a further project to introduce low banks on the contour to slow run-off from the hills once it hits the flats.