Tips & Tricks

Re­cov­er­ing from fire

Farms & Farm Machinery - - Contents -

If you’re un­for­tu­nate enough to be hit by bush­fires, the next steps af­ter the im­me­di­ate fire re­cov­ery pe­riod are to man­age sur­viv­ing stock, re­turn burnt pas­tures to pro­duc­tiv­ity, and re­place fenc­ing and wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture.

Peak in­dus­try body Meat and Live­stock Aus­tralia has pub­lished some thoughts from Daniel Schup­pan, who was heav­ily in­volved with fire-af­fected pro­duc­ers in

South Aus­tralia’s lower north, where 80,000 hectares were burnt in Novem­ber 2015.

Schup­pan is also an an­i­mal pro­duc­tion spe­cial­ist with Land­mark, based at Jamestown, SA, a life­time ewe man­age­ment course de­liv­erer and part of the Mid North Young Guns net­work­ing and devel­op­ment group.

He says the fire im­pacted live­stock pro­duc­ers in dif­fer­ent ways: some lost all their stock and pas­tures, stub­bles, stored grain and hay, while oth­ers lost pas­tures but saved some an­i­mals.

Al­though re­cov­ery strate­gies are de­ter­mined by the sever­ity of im­pact and the land type (arable, non-arable, plains or hills), Schup­pan ad­vises broad prin­ci­ples ap­ply in man­ag­ing live­stock and re­build­ing pas­tures af­ter fire: 1. GIVE PAS­TURES TIME • An­nual pas­tures: Ce­re­als can be dry-sown for early feed, but medic and sub-clover pas­tures will need the au­tumn break to re­ju­ve­nate.

“De­fer graz­ing un­til plants are es­tab­lished to avoid dam­ag­ing young plants and re­move stock in spring to al­low seed set to build the seed bank,” Schup­pan says. • Im­proved peren­nial pas­tures: Fol­low best-prac­tice graz­ing man­age­ment to pre­vent over graz­ing and re­duc­ing plant den­sity.

• Na­tive grass­lands: Rest for 12 months if pos­si­ble to al­low for full re­cov­ery, or just lightly graze in winter and re­move stock to al­low seed set in spring and rest in sum­mer. Set ground cover and dry mat­ter/hectare tar­gets and stick to them. Have an ‘exit’ strat­egy for a dry spring, such as sell­ing or ag­ist­ing stock.

“Some pad­docks might need a year or two to re­turn to full pro­duc­tiv­ity,” Schup­pan ex­plains. “This may be a chal­lenge if cash flow is re­quired but pas­tures need to be fully rested for long-term pro­duc­tion. If only part of a pad­dock was burnt, tem­po­rary elec­tric fenc­ing is an op­tion to pre­vent stock graz­ing this area un­til there is ad­e­quate ground cover.” 2. BUD­GET FEED If you haven’t al­ready, now is the time to de­velop a feed bud­get to take stock of what feed you have and what you need.

Schup­pan sug­gests pro­duc­ers in south­ern Aus­tralia plan for the worst and hope for the best by bud­get­ing feed for a late break (May/June) and man­ag­ing stock numbers ac­cord­ingly.

An ear­lier sea­sonal break in April will be a bonus. A good start­ing point is MLA’s Feed De­mand Cal­cu­la­tor. A feed bud­get al­lows pro­duc­ers to as­sess an­i­mal en­ergy/pro­tein re­quire­ments (based on class/preg­nancy sta­tus) and feed avail­abil­ity (pas­ture, hay and grain).

“Test the feed qual­ity [es­pe­cially of bought or do­nated hay and grain] for a more ac­cu­rate assess­ment,”

Schu­pan sug­gests.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween avail­able feed and an­i­mal re­quire­ments can be bridged by re­duc­ing the stock­ing rate (sell or ag­ist) or us­ing sup­ple­men­tary feed­ing or con­fine­ment feed­ing.

“Weigh up the cost-ef­fec­tive­ness and labour re­quire­ments of each strat­egy. For ex­am­ple, con­fine­ment feed­ing can cost around $1.90-2.30/head/week for a ewe in the late stages of preg­nancy, or $1.30/head/week for dry sheep.”

An­other con­sid­er­a­tion is lamb­ing or calv­ing in large con­fine­ment yards. 3. MAN­AGE AGISTED STOCK “While the fo­cus will be on re­build­ing the farm, it’s im­por­tant to still man­age stock on ag­ist­ment,”

Schup­pan says. “This in­cludes mon­i­tor­ing body con­di­tion to en­sure stock do not go back­wards, and reg­u­larly as­sess­ing feed avail­abil­ity.”

Schup­pan also sug­gests scan­ning ewes, heifers and cows, as stress can im­pact preg­nancy rates and will im­pact feed bud­gets and man­age­ment for the year ahead. 4. AS­SESS YOUR EN­TER­PRISE Fire can cre­ate a ‘blank slate’, pro­vid­ing the op­por­tu­nity to re­assess and re­fo­cus your en­ter­prise. It is a good time to con­sider fac­tors such as:

• Re­po­si­tion­ing fences and wa­ter­ing points

• Adding laneways or fenc­ing to land type

• De­ter­min­ing the most suit­able fenc­ing ma­te­rial for re

fenc­ing

• As­sess­ing the di­rec­tion of your live­stock en­ter­prise (is this

a chance to change species, breed or mar­ket?)

• Chang­ing the time of shear­ing/lamb­ing to im­prove

ef­fi­ciency. 5. MAN­AGE BIOSE­CU­RITY Many pro­duc­ers rely on do­nated hay and grain or ag­ist­ment un­til pas­tures re­turn to full pro­duc­tion. Some ba­sic biose­cu­rity mea­sures in­clude:

• Shear re­turned (or new) stock and run them in a small

pad­dock for around two weeks

• Min­imise the risk of in­tro­duc­ing weeds

• Shear, treat for lice and iso­late new/re­turned sheep to

pre­vent the spread of lice

• Feed do­nated hay in a small pad­dock to re­duce the

spread of weed seed

• Prac­tise quar­an­tine drench­ing to pre­vent the in­tro­duc­tion

of par­a­sites.

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