A dedicated paddock of quality irrigated pasture has seen the Bowman family through a period of expansion in their cross-bred commercial cattle business near Rosedale in Gippsland. It’s no ordinary paddock, but 80 hectares of a high performing Knight Italian ryegrass, grown under centre pivot irrigation and rotationally grazed, one quarter at a time. With this super grazing cell, Glenn Bowman and his parents Tim and Julie, can put nearly 900 weaners on the 80 hectare pasture through winter and spring, and at times, still have to cut it for silage. “The cattle are keen to graze on the Knight, as soon as we go to shift the fence they’re waiting eagerly for the next cell to graze,” he said.
The significant increase in quality and quantity of feed produced on the farm has also enabled them to gradually increase breeder numbers over the past few years. “We’ve just about got numbers where we want them, despite a few tough seasons,” said Mr Bowman.
Mr Bowman said the pasture variety they chose to establish their high performing grazing cell in 2014 was new, and just being advertised at the time. “I saw Knight advertised as the latest in Italian ryegrass, with superior performance and higher yields,” said Mr Bowman.
“We had already done very well growing this type of pasture on dryland country and cutting it for silage, so we decided to go with the best available and try Knight.” It was planted in autumn, replacing a crop of lucerne which had been grown for hay, and it performed exactly as advertised. One of the biggest advantages of the grazing cell has been the increase in winter feed. “Our Knight pasture carries some impressive numbers in winter, when we need the feed the most. It just hangs on and keeps going,” Mr Bowman said. “Then in spring, it really starts to grow. It even got ahead of the cattle one year and we had to mow it for hay.”
Knight diploid Italian ryegrass from Stephen Pasture Seeds was developed to give farmers a pasture that would establish rapidly and provide higher autumn and winter yields. Although it is a short rotation ryegrass, Knight can perform well into the second year, as the Bowmans have seen. In its first year, they stocked the paddock with 750 weaners, but it was carrying closer to 900 weaners in the second year.
“It was planted into a really good paddock which had good drainage and fertility because of the lucerne,” Mr Bowman said. “It also gets some special treatment compared with the rest of the farm, because it’s such a high performing pasture.” For example, through winter they fertilise each quarter of the paddock with 150 kg/ha of PastureBoosta after grazing. This supplies nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulphur. Then in spring, the fertiliser program switches to a 100 kg/ha of a nitrogen and potassium blend, applied every one or two grazings, depending on their visual assessment. The whole farm is soil tested annually. The care that the Bowman family takes with nutrition, irrigation and grazing management is more than repaid in pasture productivity. “We used to do a lot of hand feeding in winter, but having this irrigated Knight pasture has given us the flexibility to ease that off,” Mr Bowman said. “It’s a lot more efficient to just have the feed in the paddock.”
They have since planted another 30 hectares to Knight ryegrass, turning one of their least productive dryland pastures around. Mr Bowman said they usually market their steers at 12 to 16 months, in spring, depending on seasonal conditions and market prices. But last year, they were kept on. “We’re able to hold on to stock for longer and wait for prices to improve, because we generally have feed available and aren’t forced into selling,” he said. “At the moment, after the rain we’ve had in January, it’s still looking nice and green.” The Bowman family also have a few prime lambs on the farm, as well as running a successful Angus and Hereford bull business. Simon Hunt from Stephen Pasture Seeds said the Bowman farm near Rosedale was one of the first places in Australia to grow a commercial Knight pasture. “It’s an impressive grazing system that they have established, and I believe it is one of the largest paddocks of Knight grown under centre pivot in Australia,” he said. “They have really managed their pasture growth well, utilised it well and reaped the rewards,” he said. Mr Hunt said Knight ryegrass was not just for beef cattle grazing, but was often used by dairy farmers and sheep graziers. “Over the years, I’ve seen how Knight’s speed out of the ground has given dairy farmers and graziers some of the best autumn and winter yields they’ve ever seen,” he said. “We know that home-grown winter feed is often the most valuable feed and that’s where Knight really performs.” He said Knight produced exceptional drymatter yield results in field trials conducted across New South Wales and Victoria. “When it was compared against six other varieties, Knight yielded 1,540 kg/ha more drymatter than the average of these other varieties,” he said. “That’s worth up to $385/ha, if it can replace supplementary feed purchases at prices of $250/tonne.”