Grazing focus boosts carrying capacity

Coola Station's pasture renovation is increasing livestock production


Sheep National
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The Coola Station, which has been in the Ellis family for five generations, has a clear goal to increase livestock production.

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The Ellis family of Coola Station, Kongorong, have been able to more than double some of their livestock carrying capacity with a shift to an intensive grazing system. 

Tom Ellis Jr, who runs the livestock enterprise with his parents and wife Hilary, said the major benefit of techno grazing was the ability to substantially increase livestock carrying capacity.

TechnoGraze is an intensive rotational grazing system, originally developed in New Zealand to fatten dairy bull beef, where cattle are rotated to difference pastures every two days. 

Before the implementation of the system in 2000, Coola Station would run one bull to the hectare, but is running about 2.5 bulls/ha on a perennial-based pasture of cocksfoot, phalaris, annual ryegrass and a clover base. 

“You've got the ability to manipulate how much that animal eats instead of feeding it too much and wasting a lot, or restricting it in tight periods and foregoing weight gain, all which allows you to carry more stock,” Mr Ellis said. 

On average, Coola Station sells 2000 Angus cattle and 2000 Friesian bulls, mainly on the domestic trading market, and runs an operation running bulls for beef on the 1300ha intensive pasture rotation system. 

The cattle operation sells the bulls at two years old, aiming to be 300 kilograms dressed, with steers, sold between 18 months old to 20 months old.

Mr Ellis said the better pasture use meant the cattle was eating everything and by restricting them to one smaller paddock for two days, there was no nutrient transfer.

“On a big scale production you get a lot of nutrient transfer when the cattle are at water points,” he said. 

“Then you can get very good pasture pressure, so there's no picking of certain species, and you get a flat grazing, so when you came back your regrowth is exceptionally even.”

Under intensive fencing areas, there would be between 30 to 45 cattle in about a 30 metre by 50m area. 

While the entire bull enterprise is run under the grazing program, Mr Ellis said they also ran the heifers through it pre-calving, because the continual handling every two days was a great way to better their temperament. 

“By the time you've had them for 90 days in there and moving them every two days, the heifers are very responsive and great to handle,” he said.

Set in a 700 millimetre rainfall zone, the 5000ha property comprises sandy loam soils and also runs a prime lamb enterprise.

Of the self-replacing flock of 14,000 maternal composite ewes, 30 per cent are joined to Oaklea composite rams for replacements and 70 per cent to Bethelrei Poll Dorset rams for terminal production. Coola Station produces 10,000 domestic trade lambs a year at 18-26kg carcaseweight, or 16-20 weeks of age.

VINES ADDITION REDUCES RELIANCE ON SHEEP, CATTLE

DIVERSIFICATION and early economic foresights are the keys to longevity for livestock property Coola Station with investments in various enterprises, including viticulture. 

Tom Ellis Jr says his father instigated diversification to eliminate the economic risk factors of being so heavily reliant on the livestock industry. 

In the early 2000s, the Ellis family put in some grapevines and, following exceptional growth and market interest, developed a 27-hectare vineyard into 108ha within five years, which is managed by Mr Ellis’ sister Louise.

While the majority of the grapes go to produce bulk wine, the family business also has its own Coola Road label. 

Mr Ellis said the vineyard was not only for risk management, but also to build the farm portfolio, to ease succession planning and ensure the land would not have to be split. 

“If you don't have that foresight early on then, when the questions are asked around the family table, then it's pretty hard to make instant decisions,” he said.

“Everyone within the family has to be on the same path and that's why we've gone down this path, as it's not an investment opportunity for one person, everyone’s in it together.”

Capital is also invested off-farm in real estate and shares.

“We're there to build a portfolio and so it’s about hedging your bets in equity markets,” he said.  

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