Ultra High Density Grazing: Springsure KIT Day Wrap-Up (Part One)

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On March 31st, over 60 producers gathered at Les and Desley Abdy’s property Old Rainworth Fort just outside of Springsure. This particular Keep in Touch (KIT) day was combined with neighbouring producer Mick Lavel at Kelvin Downs. Both neighbours have been long term clients with RCS and are currently practising cell grazing as well as other holistic management strategies. This newsletter article will focus on what the group learnt about ultra-high density grazing and the next newsletter will discuss what was learnt about property development planning and land regeneration.

Above left: After grazing at 200 head/hectare density.

Above right: After grazing at 1500 head/hectare density.

In recent years the Abdys have been experimenting with ultra-high density grazing practices. Les explained that his view on high density grazing revolves around what you do with the grass that your animals don’t eat. The Abdy’s aim to cycle tall, old, phase three grass ‘back through the system’ using animal density as management tool when required. This process stimulates soil ecology, accelerates mineral cycling and promotes strong grass growth in the next growing season.

Les stressed that at each graze he is only aiming to eat approximately 40% of what is standing and ‘do a job’ on the remaining 60% using density; hooves and mouths. The animals currently running on Old Rainworth Fort are a mix of older cows, backgrounding heifers and agistment cattle which are used to fluctuate numbers and density when needed. These cattle are gaining an average of 0.45kg/hd/day throughout the year, a good annual average for this region.

Throughout the day it became clear that the Abdys were following the RCS principles of regenerative and successfully using the 5th principle by applying high densities to their paddocks. Les said that high density grazing is certainly not an excuse for eating more grass; the cattle simply get the opportunity to eat what they want for how long they want.

The morning of the KIT day, Les and RCS facilitator James Barnet went out to set up the cells for the day. Les explained that recently he has been allowing the cattle to calibrate his feed budget for him. When going into a new paddock, Les uses the fencing equipment rigged up on his bike to erect a one hectare cell using temporary electric fences. He then lets cattle into the fresh feed in the one hectare cell and observes how long they are happy to graze for. On the day, that particular mob of 1500 hd happily grazed for 20 mins before starting to lift their heads and look for more feed. With a few quick calculations out in the paddock Les worked out that that mob would need 3 ha of fresh feed per hour. He then went ahead and spent about half an hour setting up more electric fences within the paddock based on how many times he wanted that mob to move and what densities he wanted to work the country at. A tool used in this high density system was the use of batt latches; automatic spring like gates that can be programmed to open at a particular time (left photo below).

Les said that he varies the graze periods and densities with respect to ‘how much of a job’ he wants to do on that area. Les explained this by saying “You need to look at your cattle first. Let them tell you what they need and then think about what your land needs after that. Cattle are honest; they will stop eating when they are ready and they only feed for approximately 8 out of 24 hours.” Both Mick and Les noted that they aim to leave enough length in the grass to come back to if they need and to also protect the soil surface against the winter wind. In any grazing system, aim to leave your country in a condition when it is ready to explode after rain and accumulate as much young leaf as possible during the growing season.

It was good to see that this method of high density grazing directly relates to all six of the RCS regenerative grazing principles and that the principles are being followed in order. Throughout the day Les reiterated the importance of principle number one; plan, monitor, manage grazing. He said that “High density grazing can do a hell of a lot of good but it can also go very wrong very quickly if you’re not on the ball.”

RCS’ David McLean also reinforced the learnings from the Abdy/Lavel work that the third regenerative grazing principle – matching stocking rate to carrying capacity – must be adhered to before utilising density. “Ultra-high density grazing is another tool we have available in our tool kits, however we must get the basics right first of giving plants adequate rest and matching stocking rate to carrying capacity. If we get these wrong, usually through inadequate planning, monitoring and management, it will impact the country and cattle adversely. It was great to see the country looking good and the cattle in great condition and a good frame of mind.”

When asked ‘where to from here’ the Abdy’s said that they intend to trial densities of around 1000 hd/ha during the growing season in an attempt to continue to increase plant density and legume content. We look forward to tracking what results Les, Desley and their son Sam get from using high density grazing into the future.

We would like to extend a big thank you to both the Adby Family and Mick and his daughter Maria for hosting and also to those who made the effort to come along on the day.

I look forward to seeing you at the next KIT day in your area.

Katie Crozier
Project Management and Support