Opportunistic Grazing – Cows Clean Up Lupin Harvest
The reality is that farming is challenging – there are good seasons, average seasons, and downright difficult seasons. In the good seasons there is lots of grass growing, in the bad seasons (depending on where you are) not much grows at all.
This season has been a particularly tough one for farmers such as Stuart McAlpine in the northern wheatbelt, with rainfall well below average, a late start, and a warm dry spring, meaning an early finish to the season. This has meant that cropping yields are way below average, with some farmers choosing not to harvest their crops, because it would cost more in labour and diesel than they would be paid for delivering the grain.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. The beauty of regenerative agriculture is that practices like keeping the soil covered year round, feeding the soil food web (rather than the plant), introducing animals into cropping systems, and focusing on biological rather than synthetic fertilizers can help build long term resilience in farming systems.
Stuart has recently added a herd of cattle into his farming system. The cattle graze over his stubble after harvest, and add a pasture phase into his cropping rotation. Grazing cropland improves soil fertility by increasing the number of microbes in the soil, and increasing organic matter with the addition of manure. It can also provide significant benefits for farmers who use cover crops and no-till methods as the animals can graze the cover crops and stubble while lightly integrating their manure into the soil with their hooves.
Introducing a herd of cattle to his farming to improve diversity of systems.
This is where Stuart McAlpine’s diversification has paid off this year. Stuart is at the tail end of a very challenging season, with low rainfall meaning that his lupin crop is barely worth harvesting. Stuart has been farming biologically for over 20 years, which has built up his soil health over time, and helped his crops maintain superior quality even when the yields are low.
He decided to graze his lupin crop with his cattle herd this year, instead of harvesting the lupins. He has set up a long paddock with a mobile electric fence, which they are moving several times a day. This way, the cattle bunch up along the fence line and graze all the lupins, rather than spreading out and eating some plants while trampling others. The water point is at one end of the paddock, and they move the fence further from the water each time, so the cattle still walk backwards to access the water whenever they need.
Setting up the mobile electric fence that is moved regularly.
Lupins are a great addition to a cow’s diet, being an excellent source of energy and protein. This is a particularly important addition when cows are foraging on lower quality pasture, such as crop stubble, which is a great fiber source.
At the moment the cows are looking pretty fat and happy, and keep running over to the fence asking to be let into the next patch of lupins! After a few months on this pasture, and with the addition of some hay when needed, these steers and heifers are going to be heading to Dirty Clean Food in the New Year.
The cattle are enjoying the lupin crop and growing to impressive sizes with the nutrients from lupin.
It is still quite unusual to see cattle as part of a broadacre cropping farming system in the northern wheatbelt. It has been great to see that diversifying while improving soil health can have such a beneficial impact on the farming landscape and ecology, as well as the farmer’s bottom line. Here’s to supporting more regenerative farming systems to build resilience in our changing climate.