Dr Ian Braithwaite and Jo Travers, of Sutherland Station.

Jessie Norman, Mt Aberdeen Station, left, and Olivia Gordon, Thurso Station, work with plasticine models of calf head size on a diagram showing body size to understand gestation period.

Improve herd efficiency

THE key to profitability is not necessarily how little or how much you spend on inputs, but getting greatest return from investments made.  Veterinarian Dr Ian Braithwaite is helping local graziers improve their herd performance.

Improving herd efficiency is the primary goal of a grazing enterprise, but to make real progress you have to analyse each phase of the operation to identify those areas where adjustments can make the greatest impact.

To do this, you have to establish some baseline data, summarise and evaluate the data on operational basis, and a per cow, and per acre basis, then set some benchmark targets for the operation to reach in the years ahead.

With clear target benchmarks to serve as a simplified report card, efficiency can be measured and evaluated annually.

Although this two-day workshop focussed on the practical skills of pregnancy testing and foetal ageing in cattle, Ian Braithwaite also focussed on how to increase livestock efficiency and performance, business profitability and landscape resilience.

Thank you to Paul Thorogood and Jo Travers, of Sutherland Station, for hosting this workshop.

It was part of an integrated program that the LDC Grazier Support Program is delivering throughout 2019. The program offers BBB catchment-wide preg-testing, conducted by recognised practitioners.

Any property within the BBB is encouraged to participate. The first 500 cows will be free of charge.

Conditions apply and participants will also be required to undertake a Herd Management Plan with an approved consultant of their choosing.

The LDC BBB Grazier Support program held a breeder management and preg testing school at Sutherland Station, thanks to owners Jo Travers and Paul Thorogood. The workshop was led by Dr Ian Braithwaite. Front (from left): Paul Thorogood and son Cooper, Jo Travers, Jess Norman, Olivia Gordon, Alex Otto, Stephanie Tudehope, Charlie Woodhouse, Shange Jameson, at back, Ellisa Davis, Adrienne Hall, Troy Russell, Brodie Gordon, Ian Braithwaite, Derek Young, Alistair Brown, Simon Le Blowit, and at the very back, George Gourley.

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Figure 1. Total fine sediment reduction by project type and erosion source. Inset shows the proportion of the total project area for each project type.

These estimates have been calculated using two methods: 

1) The pollutant reduction component of the Alluvium/Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF) investment tool for hillslope and streambank erosion management projects; 

2) The Reef Trust Gully Toolbox method for gully erosion management projects. The LDC Water Quality Report 2020 (Waterhouse et al., 2020) highlights that a number of assumptions underlay these calculations, therefore these figures should be treated as the best available estimate of sediment reductions to date.

Preventing sediment from reaching the Great Barrier Reef

Each wet season sediment is washed into local waterways and out to the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). 

Most sediment is very fine, and can stay suspended for a long time and can travel great distances. Valuable topsoil is lost from production, and increased concentrations on the reef can be harmful to seagrasses and corals. 

Landholders in the BBB have completed 69 on-ground water quality practice changes, and it is estimated that these have contributed a fine sediment reduction of 6,154 tonnes per year from reaching the GBR. 

Of this, approximately half of the sediment savings are attributable to grazing land management changes on hillslopes and streambanks, and the other half as a result of gully remediation treatments across a broad range of scales, as shown in the graphs above. 

The table below also highlights the relatively small area of intervention in the gully management projects compared to the large sediment savings that these can achieve - 60 per cent of the sediment savings over only 4 per cent of the project area.

Table 1. Estimated sediment reductions (tonnes) from projects completed in the LDC Project to date.

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*GLMWW = Grazing Land Management Wire and Water

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*The Exploring New Incentives activity area has provided an opportunity for graziers to adopt improved land management practices through a range of activities. For some of these properties, it was the first time they signed contracts for on-ground works.

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The LDC project monitors four gully sites (represented in this table) with gold standard equipment and analysis, carried out by CSIRO.

Results have been compiled in a preliminary report from Bartley et al (2020), with the final report expected to be released by the end of 2020. The preliminary report shows all four sites have indicators of improvements, notably the Strathbogie and Mt Wickham sites.

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Reef regulations - grazing, standard conditions

  1. For land in good or fair condition (more than 50 per cent ground cover at 30 September), continue using measures to maintain land condition.
  2. For land in poor condition (less than 50 per cent ground cover at 30 September), steps must be taken to improve land condition.
  3. For land in degraded condition (less than 20 per cent ground cover at 30 September), steps must be taken to improve land condition OR prevent areas from further degrading or expanding.
  4. Keep records of measures taken and also of agricultural chemicals, fertiliser and mill mud or mill ash applied to land.
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