Matching flexibility, feed and fertility

Above: Bradley and Bronwyn Arthur and sons Giles and Hayde.

The Arthur family face unique challenges in managing the feedbase across their 500ha cattle business on SA’s Fleurieu Peninsula, so adaptability is a guiding principle.

Bradley and Bronwyn Arthur farm with their sons Giles and Hayden, running a self-replacing Angus breeding herd on owned, leased and agisted land.

Their home block is divided into small paddocks – reflecting its former use as a dairy farm – while their leased country presents constraints around management and inputs.

“We don’t have a locked-in plan – we’re flexible,” Bradley said.

“Our production management revolves around our stocking rate and matching that to our available pasture.”

The Arthurs operate an autumn calving, with 180 breeders across all blocks of land.

“Once we get into spring, we move weaners off their mothers and market them around Christmas. Then over summer, when feed is scarcest, we have the lowest animal numbers.”

On the home block, which has some irrigated paddocks, Bradley has retained the original small paddocks (averaging 3ha) and their existing white clover–kikuyu pastures.

He’s augmented these by sowing in annual and perennial ryegrass to provide feed over the winter when the kikuyu dies off.

On some non-irrigated pastures, he direct seeds annual ryegrass in autumn, dry sowing and waiting for opening rains if necessary. These annual ryegrass paddocks provide winter feed for stock and hay for the leaner summer–autumn period.

“We shut these paddocks up in August/ September and cut hay in October/November, which we keep for ourselves for leaner times,” Bradley said.

However, the 2021–22 summer was a good one, so Bradley decided to sell the majority of the herd and hold a few lighter cattle a little longer until they reached target weights.

“In the past, we kept more heifers for our own use, rather than selling them off, to build up our numbers,” he said.

“In recent years however, the prices have been good so we kept only what we need for replacements.”

Soil fertility

In 2020, Bradley noticed some paddocks were underperforming, so conducted soil tests.

“The tests showed our paddocks were low in phosphorus, so for the past two years, we’ve applied MAP (2020) or DAP (2021) with potash,” he said.

While he hasn’t retested these areas, Bradley said the visual results are clear with an increase in production.

He’s also applying lime every 3–5 years at 2.5t/ha on lower, acidic areas.

“We won’t keep pouring fertiliser on – it will be on an as-needs basis. We’ll keep soil testing and respond to that.”

Open to ideas

Bradley is a member of the Fleurieu Beef Group, a group of producers ranging from small hobby farmers to large breeding operations, covering organic, conventional and regenerative agriculture approaches.

“Having such a diverse membership teaches everyone in the group to keep a very open mind,” Bradley said.

“Everyone has a different approach, and if you see that the product someone else is producing is the same as what you’re producing, it’s interesting to see how they’re doing that.”

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