Making changes at Ballyvaughan

November 15, 2021

With the current climate summit being held in Glasgow there is plenty of discussion regarding sustainable agriculture and how it can be the solution for climate change and not the problem.

Our property “Ballyvaughan” in the Clare Valley SA has had to face many challenges over the past five years with well below average rainfall and very short growing seasons. 2021 has been another very short growing season from June to early November and for the first time ever we had to feed our breeders in containment until there was enough growth in the pastures to graze them. After research we have started to implement various strategies to improve the health of our soil and therefore the resilience of our farming enterprise. Our ultimate aim is to manage our land and cattle in a sustainable way.

Previously this has included introducing dung beetles, the biological control of Salvation Jane, fencing off creek areas and dams, planting trees for shelter and shade and recently purchasing a double disc direct pasture seeder to increase the productivity and diversity of plants in our hills pasture. A multi species crop was dry seeded in late April in readiness for the break in the season and then the cows were cell grazed on this feed. We also trialed two different organic fertilizers ‘Neutrog rapid raiser’ which is a chicken manure based product and ‘Worm Hit’ which are pellets made from worm castings. Our aim is to have better plant cover over all our property and by using rotational grazing methods and having pastures with plenty of diversity, we are seeing some promising results. Personally, we are aiming to grow healthy soils with plenty of carbon and micro-organisms, which in turn will grow healthy plants, which leads to healthy animals and ultimately healthy humans.

Steve has also been busy creating a number of ‘Johnson Su bioreactors’ after seeing them on Youtube. Essentially, they are big composters’ that are designed in such a way that the matter that is decomposing doesn’t need to be turned and still aerates. The product at the end (it takes a year to form) contains many different trace elements that are mixed with water and used as either a foliar spray or at seeding to activate the seed. There is enough product in 1 bioreactor to spray 600 hectares.

Our cattle graze on the hills pasture over winter and spring and then become “stubble munchers” on the arable plains that have been cropped, over summer. This allows us to rest our pastures and utilize the stubble resource. We also find that the cattle increase the fertility and biodiversity of the cropping soil. Our region is a strong industrial farming cropping area where often the use of livestock is often frowned upon, but we see the cattle as great convertors of byproducts that would normally be wasted. Certainly, the profit margin of livestock compared to the tight margins of cropping is making many croppers consider the advantages of a having a more diverse enterprise.

The health and productivity of our cattle has increased enormously over the years and our hope is that this will continue as we improve the health of our land from the soil up. We need to pass the land onto the next generation in better condition and so it will be financially viable and have the ability to survive whatever the weather throws at us.