Silage pays in dry times

Drought management plan key to surviving

Beef
Sherry and Shaun Salter, Gaybrielle Downs, Teelba, with no. 8 heifers that are thriving during the drought because of a silage ration.

Sherry and Shaun Salter, Gaybrielle Downs, Teelba, with no. 8 heifers that are thriving during the drought because of a silage ration.

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Graziers are already reflecting on what this drought has taught them and how they've had to adapt their businesses.

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This drought may still be doling out cruel blows, but graziers are already reflecting on what it has taught them and how they've had to adapt their businesses.

For Shaun and Sherry Salter, Gaybrielle Downs, Teelba, the past 12 months of drought feeding has shown them the value of increasing on-farm storage and having it full for when the dry pinches.

The Salters put 950 tonnes of silage into storage in 2016, a decision which has allowed them to keep feeding their 550 Droughtmaster breeders and progeny.

Historically, they had carried their progeny through and turned them off oats as 400kg feeders, but the silage ration and a new marketing opportunity has seen them feeding for domestic slaughter.

Mr Salter said while it was still costing them a lot of time and money to feed their cattle, the silage ration gave them more options. "We're looking at the bigger picture," he said.

"It's not only the benefits you get out of making a little bit of money out of doing it, it's then the secondary benefits that come in with the fact that we were able to early wean and get the condition on the cows before winter.

"We early preg tested as well and that gave us the opportunity to feed those cows, and it also took them out of the paddock."

The Slaters fed the empty cows for 36 days, and Mr Salter said some had weight gains of four kilograms per day on the silage ration.

"It gives us the ability to sell on our terms, not on oh shit we're out of feed, they've got to go no matter what the market's like," Mr Salter said.

The ration has also saved their paddocks. "We've still got a bit of dry matter in front of us," Mr Salter said.

"The grass is in a state that if we get an inch of rain, we're going to get a mouthful of feed."

Mr Salter said once it rained, they'd be increasing their storage and would look to build a registered feed pen.

"You're in control of your business. There's always a dry pinch where you're going to have some skinny cows to sell; you're not being dictated to by the market.

"If you think that things are going to change, you can manage your market a little bit. When there's a glut of bony cows on the market and bugger all fat cows, it gives you options."

Mr Salter said the ration also fit in well with their efforts to put weaners on oats.

"You wean in May usually, and then it may not be until June/July that you get that secondary fall to get the secondary roots down on your oats," he said.

"Put them on feed for 50 days instead of having them in a dry grass paddock... and have them punching forward the whole time.

"You don't get the great compensatory gains down the track, but at least your cattle are moving forward and if you can get a good market, you know you've got good MSA cattle."

Drought management planning

Putting almost 1000 tonnes of silage down for when it got dry was part of a drought management plan that the Salters began implementing.

"Over the last four or five years, we've tried to put in a drought management strategy to assist us when the dry periods do come," Mr Salter said.

"We hadn't had a really bad drought or a dry spell since 2006, so we knew we were about due."

They also built an exclusion fence in conjunction with their neighbours, closing in 6000 hectares, which was completed in mid-2018.

"Trying to control feral animals in this area is always a challenge," Mr Salter said.

"We've self funded exclusion fencing and removed a large quantity of feral animals from the property which really helped us spell country.

"Unfortunately, since the fence has been closed we haven't had the rain to show the benefits of it."

Since the drought took hold, the Salters have taken the opportunity to desilt their dams and start a deep ripping program.

"Now is the perfect time to do it," Mr Salter said.

"We're going in eight inches to help water penetrate better when we do get some rain. It's as much about moisture penetration as it is nutrient release."

"We've done 600 acres so far and our plan is to do 1000 acres every year."

The Salters have previously trialed renovating buffel country through deep ripping, and seen impressive results - something they hope to see across the rest of their country.

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