Winter grazing of livestock can play an important role on cropping farms, a crowd of 140 farmers were told at a recent Foundation for Arable Research and Beef + Land New Zealand field day.
FAR chair Steven Bierema hosted the event at his Mitcham farm near Rakaia, which is fully cropped in summer and finishes 4000 lambs as well as winter grazing dairy cows.
Bierema, who farms in partnership with his son Pieter Taco Bierema, grows ryegrass, clover, pak choi, garden peas, marrowfat peas, maize, barley and milling and feed wheat.
Pieter said the finishing of lambs is closely linked with ryegrass, with the lambs coming in autumn and the last sold to the meat works in mid-October when the last paddock of ryegrass is closed for seed production.
Lambs are grazed on former clover seed paddocks until the end of May.
Left to regrow after being harvested in February, these paddocks produce 3000kg of dry matter a hectare and post grazing are sown in milling wheat, utilising the extra nitrogen in the soil from the nitrogen-fixing clover.
The lambs are grazed on greenfeed oats in the winter, which are drilled after either peas or cereal crops while the dairy heifers are winter grazed on kale and some short-rotation Italian ryegrass after peas.
“It sounds complicated, but it isn’t. The cropping and the lambs in winter really complement each other.
“We try to maximise it as much as possible with the farm in full production all year.”
Arable farmers need sheep farmers to breed lambs for them to graze, while sheep farmers need an outlet for store lambs they are not able to finish themselves.
“We need each other,” Pieter said.
Erica Callaghan, one of three other farmers on a panel, said moving to an arable-livestock system presented an opportunity to increase returns and spread cashflow on the family farm at Fairlie.
“Historically we have done quite a lot of winter grazing but now with livestock integration part of the overall system we are cropping 1800ha with 50% wheat, 30% linseed and the rest in barley, clover, kale or forage.”
Store lambs come in from March to the end of July with 100 R2 calves also part of the livestock component.
“The biggest challenge we have is the environmental regulations, farming under land use consent and now winter grazing,” Callaghan said.
Hamish Marr runs his 500ha operation at Methven as two agronomically separate entities with 400ha arable growing peas, wheat, red clover, oats, barley and vegetable seeds, and 100ha pastoral carrying replacement dairy heifers stocking 3.5 animals to the hectare on greenfeed cereals, rape and swedes.
“We used to trade lambs. Some years we made money, some years we didn’t. Now we have an arrangement with a neighbour for 4000 lambs and that fits in with arable every year.
“It’s a simple thing, grazing animals, and something the soil biology can convert into the next crop.
“Animals are very low risk. Think of them as another crop – they are not at risk of frost or hail and they certainly don’t roll along the paddock on a windy day, and you can bank on their income every year.
“It’s agronomics versus economics – you can chase the finances all you like but you have got to balance what fits your system,” Marr said.
When Daryl Oldham put in irrigation 10 years ago, he looked at how he could best integrate it into the farming system.
“The breeding ewes didn’t stack up. We did winter grazing cows for five years, then moved to lambs, and we have found they give a lot more flexibility in the cropping system.
“I see the biggest issue going forward, with fewer and fewer breeding ewes around, will be the supply of store lambs,” Oldham said.