Grazing management focus in the Hunter

As dairy farmers innovate to survive in a deregulated environment, a move to centre pivot irrigation has been just one of the new technologies adopted by the industry.

Driven by the need for more feed, increased feed quality, animal health benefits and ease of management, there has also been a shift away from lucerne based pastures, and increased use of fertilisers.

With those changes has come a range of different grazing management practices as dairy farmers strive to maximise the return from their irrigated pastures.

That’s all the more difficult because world-wide there has been little research into irrigated pastures under centre pivot irrigation.

But a project initiated by NSW Department of Primary Industries at Scone will change that by identifying successful grazing management practices, and use those to shape best management practice guidelines.

Project Leaders, Scone-based DPI district agronomist Jacinta Christie and dairy officer Anthea Young have been working with the Hunter Dairy Development Group and they believe the project is an important one for dairy farmers across Australia.

“There is a distinct lack of information available on irrigated pastures under centre pivot irrigation and irrigators are largely working in the dark,” Ms Young said.

“This is a concern because an increasing number of dairy farmers are now relying on centre pivot irrigators for dry matter production.

“In the Hunter Dairy Development Group area alone (Tamworth, Upper Hunter and Dubbo), the 29 dairy farms identified as using centre pivot irrigation are all utilising different grazing management approaches.”

Ms Young said the survey had highlighted several important issues such as planning for installation, fencing and farm layout, species selection, soil and nutrient management, irrigation management and management of grazing.

“Sixty seven per cent of farmers thought there was not enough information available when making purchasing decisions,” she said.

“Significant differences were found between location of shade and watering points in relation to pivots and wheel tracks have emerged as a significant management issue.”

Many respondents use custom designed machinery to fill in their wheel tracks, while others use wheel covers, select bigger tyres and adjusted pressure, or use adaptations to drain water away from wheels.

Some used spreader bars, or run the pivot over dry ground to compact it after sowing. Preventative measures include the use of boom backs, drainage pipes, spreader bars and wheel covers, as well as the correct pressure.

Ms Young said the range of systems being utilised under pivots meant there would be no set magic formula for grazing management – this being dependent on herd size, availability of labour and species sown.

Participating farmers have received a summary of the findings and the opportunity to participate in forums to discuss the findings and other farmers’ successful practices. Industry stakeholders have attended a separate forum to discuss finding and prioritise future directions. The project team plans to widen the survey into other dairying areas across the State and also to investigate centre pivot management under beef cattle production.

Funding support for the grazing management practices project has been provided by the Hunter Dairy Development Group and Dairy Industry Development Corporation.

Media contact: Annette Cross (02) 6763 1243, 0427 201 840