Intensive Leucaena System Boosts Beef Production

AUSTRALIA - It has been a steep learning curve for the past two years but Westwood district grazier Simone Lawrie is fully committed to managing an 80 hectare highly intensive leucaena-based grazing system that produced an impressive 400 kg of beef per hectare in less than six months.
calendar icon 25 March 2011
clock icon 5 minute read

Simone and her husband Peter own Esher, a 4860 ha cattle aggregation where they made the decision in 2008 to sell off their breeders and make the transition to a full cattle trading operation.

The business revolves around sourcing young cattle through private paddock sales and saleyards and growing them out to forward sell to established feedlot operators.

The Lawries have been liaising with Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation (DEEDI) senior pasture agronomist Stuart Buck, Biloela, who leads the state-wide "Accelerated adoption of leucaena" project.

Mr Buck, an executive member of The Leucaena Network representing more than 120 leucaena growers, said the DEEDI-funded project targets the potential of this high protein browse legume for improving the productivity of 12 million hectares of northern Australia's grazing lands.

"Leucaena is a very productive perennial that needs to be intensively managed to maximise beef turnoff," Mr Buck said.

"In good seasons like the present, producers need to be actively adjusting stocking rates to ensure the leucaena does not grow beyond the reach of the cattle. Failure to keep leucaena at a manageable height wastes valuable feed reducing economic return and increases the potential for seed set leading to inter row thickening."

All leucaena growers are urged to follow the industry-supported code of conduct promoted by The Leucaena Network to ensure leucaena does not become an environmental weed.

Mr Buck said the Lawrie family's rotational grazing system where stocking rates were constantly adjusted had effectively maximised returns.

Simone Lawrie said they did their homework to learn all they could about leucaena-improved grass pasture management before planting their 80 ha of Tarramba variety leucaena on one metre double rows using 10 m centres in March 2006.

To augment the leucaena, they planted a grass mix of Callide Rhodes, bambatsi, Biloela buffel and Gatton panic, which has thrived on the former cultivation country fronting Gogango Creek.

The 80 ha leucaena paddock has been fenced into 20 grazing paddocks that all connect to a central laneway system where stock access water.

"We have used single wire electric fencing to create the four hectare paddocks and estimate the full setup cost at just under $500/ha," Ms Lawrie said.

The Lawries buy in predominantly milk tooth Brahman-Euro crossbred and Bos indicus bloodline steers at around the 250 kg liveweight and heifers from 200 kg liveweight. Their feedlot backgrounding enterprise targets a turnoff weight of 400 kg for steers and 350 kg for heifers.

They also buy in store cows to progress through their grazing system when market values are lower and there is ample feed.

While Simone manages the intensively grazed leucaena system, Peter looks after their adjoining 1584 ha forest country also run on a rotational grazing system involving 36 paddocks subdivided with single wire electric fencing. These native pasture paddocks are watered by 14 strategically placed troughs.

Bought cattle are consigned to the forest block where they are 'educated' through a low stress stock handling program, mustered with a quad bike and gain an appreciation of electric fencing.

"Depending on the season, we try to have 1000 head on hand and as the stock settle, we move them into the leucaena running steers, heifers and cows in one mob," Ms Lawrie said.

"We make the effort to weigh every animal monthly and record their performance and as new stock move into the leucaena, 30 per cent are drenched with the rumen bug to eliminate leucaena mimosine toxicity and maximise liveweight gain efficiency.

"Time and effort is put into maintaining grazing charts based on LSUs (Livestock Units) to determine the available feed volume.

"This called for a significant change in our previous management style as there is a need to react quickly to rainfall events to maintain the balance between the grass, leucaena and stocking rate."

Ms Lawrie said the cattle were rotated daily with an aim to leave 30 per cent of feed volume and 100 per cent groundcover after each rotation, which demanded a high degree of stocking flexibility.

Cattle spend an average of 80 to 100 days in the leucaena system but when they are gaining weight during the summer on the native pasture there are times when they are on the leucaena for just 30 days.

From January to July last year, the leucaena carried up to 318 head which equates to a stocking rate of 63 head/ha. They recorded an average gain of 1.25 kg/head/day for just under six months.

"We pushed the system into winter to utilise the leucaena before it was exposed to frost," Ms Lawrie said.

Although the frost damage did not eventuate last year, the leucaena was spelled until September.

"After 440 mm of rain in December, which flooded the paddocks closest to Gogango Creek, the leucaena system was destocked from December 27 through to February 4 this year as it was too boggy. The short-term inundation did not damage the leucaena or grass.

"Our leucaena pasture is currently carrying 210 cattle which are averaging 1.06 kg/head/day liveweight gain based on a daily rotation, a job which takes about 30 minutes each morning."

Ms Lawrie said that since planting, the leucaena has been renovated twice with a forage flail to reduce the plant height to below 60 cm. This treatment generates multiple stem and leaf growth.

The leucaena system can be irrigated with an 80 m wide lateral move irrigator that delivers 25 mm with each pass, but it has not been used.

Ms Lawrie said that based on future soil test results, they would consider applying biological nutrients through the irrigation system but to date no fertiliser had been used.

Cattle on the leucaena had access to ad lib mineral supplements of salt, sulphur and DCP dry lick in separate troughs.

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