How to Improve Production in Your Agriculture Business

One of the critical drivers of success in an agriculture business is production levels. Naturally, this makes improving production a common discussion within our community. 

From increasing and improving crop yield to matching Stocking Rate to Carrying Capacity (SR:CC), here we dive into the questions we get asked most frequently at RCS around improving production.

Grass

How do I Assess Pastures for Accurate Grass Budgeting?

When grass budgeting, remember you are estimating how much pasture there is available for the stock to eat, rather than how much standing dry matter you have in total. Therefore, you are building in a residual and discounting the species stock won’t eat.

When you have a diverse pasture mix in the paddock, graze to your desirables. This means you want to leave your desirable species with enough biomass to be rain ready with a strong root system to encourage those to increase as a percentage of the overall mix. 

For an indepth look at the various methods you can use to Feed Budget accurately, take a look at our online self-paced course, Feed Budgeting 101.

Feed budgeting in a paddock

How can Grazing Management Improve Pastures and Profitability?

Through time-controlled grazing management, the pasture quality and quantity are improved. Consequently, animal production increases either through increasing the Average Daily Gain of individual animals or through kg/ha of protein produced or both. This creates an increase in Gross Product within the business. Find out more about our grazing principles that help guide good grazing management.

Sheep in paddock

Livestock

How can I Increase Cattle and Sheep or Other Livestock Production?

To increase cattle and sheep or other livestock production, the focus must be on pasture and soil health. Healthy soils are alive and have great structures that allow pastures to thrive. This, in turn, provides quality pasture for stock. 

By ensuring the Stocking Rate matches Carrying Capacity (having enough quantity and quality pasture available), you will ensure breeding stock have adequate body condition for joining and feeder stock will make optimal average daily gains for that land and pasture type. To achieve this, you must vary the stocking rate to match the season—less rainfall, less grass production, and less stock numbers that can be carried on that piece of land.

Match your rest periods for paddocks to the growth rate of the desirable pastures. This ensures that the plant is maintained in phase two of its life cycle for the maximum time and allows for desirable species to increase in the pasture mix. It will also allow adequate rest to ensure maximum ground cover and root health.

Ensure all stock has access to clean water, ideally from a trough, and ensure stock is free from disease and pests. Rest periods assist in this by breaking the life cycles of pests such as ticks, reducing the need for chemicals or undesirable alternative methods for control. Lastly, provide adequate shelter for your stock, such as windbreak and shade.

You can learn more about the methods suggested above in our RCS Grazing Clinics and GrazingforProfit® program.

What is Stocking Rate vs Carrying Capacity?

Stocking Rate is the demand on the feed supply, considering how many stock you have and what is the overall herd Large Stock Unit (LSU) or Dry Sheep Equivalent (DSE). Carrying Capacity is the amount of feed you have available based on pasture quality and quantity.

Cropping

What Pastures go with Cropping?

To consider what pastures go with cropping, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Are we cropping or are we grazing? 
  • Are we looking for annual pastures or perennial pastures?
  • Is the pasture there to enhance the crops (legumes) or animals (grasses)? 
  • Do we prefer native pasture with cell grazing or go with subtropical or winter-dominant pastures?
  • What type of crop rotation are we working with?

Your answers to these questions will guide you in your plant selections.

Wheat crop at sunset

How can I Increase and Improve Crop Yield?

The question should be “how do I increase crop gross margin?” or “how many inputs do we currently need to prop up poor ecological function?” and “will those inputs increase as the ecological function continues to decrease?”.

Remember, there is no correlation between production and profit. There is a powerful correlation between the cost of production and profit. You can learn more about this in our Regenerative Cropping Workshops.

Frequently Asked Questions

Match your rest periods for paddocks to the growth rate of the desirable pastures. This ensures that the plant is maintained at maximum production (in phase two of its life cycle) for the maximum time and allows for desirable species to increase in the pasture mix. This increases the amount of green leaf and therefore increases the rate of photosynthesis. It will also allow adequate rest to ensure maximum ground cover and root health. Discover how to do this at our Grazing Clinics.

Plan, monitor and manage. Each season is different, and we need to plan for the future and then readily observe the changes in the paddock to make sure we react and adjust as required.

Implement time-controlled grazing (matching rest to the growth rate of the plant), grazing for desirable species and matching stocking rate to carrying capacity.

Check out the full list of RCS Grazing Principles for further details.

Allow adequate rest periods for native pastures to become established and increase in volume. Focus grazing decisions towards the desirable natives, leaving enough biomass behind after grazing to ensure the plant has a strong root system and is rain ready. Remember the important rule to only remove a maximum of 40% of C4 grasses in one graze and 60% of C3 grasses to ensure root biomass is increasing.

Learn more about how to manage pastures at GrazingforProfit®.

You can increase the stocking rate and carrying capacity by allowing plants to have adequate rest and grazing for desired species. You will improve the pasture composition, and this will be reflected underneath the surface by improving soil structure and microbial life. This will increase ground cover and the amount of quality pasture available throughout variable seasons and increase the resilience of your landscape. It also allows root zones to develop and access water and nutrients from a larger profile in the soil. 

Increasing the environment’s resilience and maintaining pasture in a rain-ready state in variable rainfall seasons allows for the overall ecosystem health to spiral upwards. This, in turn, will increase the overall carrying capacity of the landscape, therefore increasing the number of stock that can be run. How to apply the above methods is covered in our Grazing Clinic and GrazingforProfit® program.

When you are spiralling the health of the land upward (ecosystem), you are increasing the carrying capacity of the land and its resilience in variable seasons. This allows you to increase the number of Large Stock Units or Dry Sheep Equivalents you can carry at certain times of the year to maximise productivity either in numbers weaned or kg of protein/ha.

Making small adjustments to stock numbers early when the season is deteriorating (rolling rainfall decreasing) means that you will need to destock less later. This allows you to end up with more stock at the end of a dry period or respond quickly when a season breaks.

Improving land health and an increase in sustainable production go hand in hand.

You can track your rolling rainfall and stock numbers using our Grazing Chart tool and use the information it provides to make the decisions mentioned above.

  • Joining window of 60 days for cattle and 35 days for sheep
  • Body condition score of 3+ at calving (cattle) and at 3+ for ewes joining and lambing
  • Well-grown replacement breeders
  • Test bulls and rams for fertility
  • Have your livestock on a rising plane of nutrition 6 weeks before lambing/calving
  • Males and females free of reproductive diseases
  • Genetic selection and monitoring
  • Select joining window based on green date of that property (green date is when you have 70% chance or more of your season starting)
  • Retain females based on fertility and age
  • Have a breeding plan for your business

 

Learn more about the above suggestions at Farming & GrazingforProfit®.

  • Adequate quality and quantity of pasture to match the animal’s needs at each stage
  • Genetic selection in females and males
  • Ensure the breed you choose is suited to the environment
  • Free of pests and disease
  • Targeted supplement for clear outcome
  • Low stress stock handling 
  • Adequate quality and quantity of water

 

Learn more about the above suggestions at Farming & GrazingforProfit®.

The carrying capacity of a piece of land changes as the seasons change. When there is less rainfall, there is less pasture growth. Therefore less stock can be carried. 

To match SR:CC, you must know where you are currently by looking at the following figures for the last 12 months:

  • Tracking rolling rainfall (12 months rolling)
  • Tracking monthly stock days (12 months rolling)

 

Then you must keep an up-to-date grass budget to ensure you know the carrying capacity of the country. How much feed do you have ahead of you? Is there growth? Match the stocking rate to the available pasture till your green date, which is when you have a 70% chance or greater of your season starting, meaning enough moisture and a soil temp to promote growth. Lastly, monitor what changes happen and manage the changes.

For more detail on the following techniques, check out the RCS Grazing Principles.

  • Plan, monitor and manage
  • Match rest period for each paddock to the growth rates of the desirable species
  • Match Stocking Rate to Carrying Capacity
  • Maintain animal health and the availability of water in both quality and quantity.
  • Increase stock density – head/hectare. For example, if you have 600 head in a 10ha paddock you have a stock density of 60 head/hectare which is a threshold to promote increased nutrient cycling between the stock and the soil.
  • Promote biodiversity in both flora and fauna (balanced ecosystems)

Growing season – matches the rest period to the growth rate of the plant. In times of rapid growth, the rest period for each paddock will be short (for example 30-60 days). Ensure you are only removing 10-20% of available pasture – this is the accumulation period where you are building your haystack for the non-growing period of the season.

Non-Growing season – conduct a whole property grass budget. Calculate the mob size you can run until your green date (the estimated time of your next growing period). Graze the available pasture in two grazes (to follow the rule of not removing more than 40% of C4 grasses in one graze and 60% of C3 grasses in one graze). It also keeps the stock on an even plane of nutrition and allows for any rainfall to be utilised.

If you want to create your own tailored grazing plan, we suggest following our self-paced, online Create a Grazing Plan course or engaging one of our Advisors to help you.

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Terry McCosker Founder of RSC Australia and the popular Grazing For Profit School. Terry is picture working with course participants of soil health and farm management principles.

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