A DESIRE to travel has sparked an interesting two-year pasture project on Ian and Fiona Koch's Bunyara property at Moculta in the Barossa Valley.
Ian heard that last year's keynote speaker at the SANTFA conference, Gabe Brown, would be presenting a session in St Louis, Missouri, and decided to make a trip to the US.
"We usually have a holiday at the end of January or in February," he said.
"We had been to the US and Mexico in 1998 and when I saw a flyer that (Rural Solutions SA's) Bruce Hancock had, I decided it might be a good trip.
"We left on January 11 or 12 so we did have to push to make sure harvest was finished."
Bruce is a fellow member of the Angaston branch of the Agricultural Bureau of SA that Ian has been involved with for more than 30 years. Gabe Brown, Brown's Ranch, runs a mixed enterprise at Bismarck, North Dakota, US.
He manages his property holistically, aiming to improve soil health through no-till farming and several other practices, companion cropping.
At the St Louis seminar Gabe spoke on cover crops, and undersowing beans or stockfeed to fix nitrogen.
The cover crops can include grasses and up to four legumes in a mix, that was then 'crash grazed' with cattle to reduce crop residue before being sown to grain.
"We had one paddock that had been continuously cropped for the past 10 years and that we did have ryegrass problems with," Ian said.
"We decided to sow it to a mix similar to what Gabe did -wheat, oats barley, wimmera ryegrass, canola, peas, beans, lupins, chicory, turnips and vetch - so we could use it as a paddock we could wean lambs onto."
The "poly-mixture paddock" has proved a success in the two years they have run it.
Last year a knockdown was used on ryegrass and earlier this year the paddock was spraytopped.
The 30-hectare paddock was resown in April, with 480 lambs weaned onto it in early August.
"They've been on there until now," Ian said when Stock Journal spoke to him last month.
A two-strand Rappa electric fence is used to divide the paddock with lambs moved every four or five days.
While the fence is not "100 per cent" at keeping lambs contained, it helps to ensure that clover continues to regenerate under the taller pasture feeds.
"There is still some chicory there and a little bit of canola," Ian said.
"I'll keep grazing the lambs there until stubbles are available from later this year."
Ian says the different plant species in the poly-mixture paddock all taste different at different times of the year, and keep lambs appetites up.
Since weaning lambs onto the paddock they have also had no problems with scouring.
"Chicory is quite a good stockfeed and helps the absorption of calcium," Ian said. "It survived well last year, but it doesn't provide much bulk. I think we might put some kale in next year."
He will try to keep the mix going.
"Regardless of the feed, it's a good paddock to wean lambs onto as it has good shelter and lots of water," he said. "When we were cropping it, it was always difficult to spray because of the different stands of trees and terrain."
Ian agrees with Gabe's principles - but not everything can relate to Australian conditions.
"Over there (in the US) they sow ryegrass as a cover crop and they don't have any problems - I think perhaps because the winter frosts kill it off," he said.
"Another speaker - WA's Bill Crabtree - was speaking there and told them they wouldn't be able to get away with that forever."
Ian says they use minimum-till equipment and try to build up organic matter and carbon in the soil profile.
"This poly-mixture paddock holds a lot of water and I think trying to build up the organic matter will help improve the soil stucture, and possibly in another couple of years we will be able to crop it again," he said.
Ian runs 500 Bunyara stud Merino ewes, with about 900 commercial ewes, and 400 older ewes mated to White Suffolks to produce prime lambs.
They have 1800ha of owned and leased land, cropping about 600ha.
* Full report in Stock Journal, November 28 issue, 2013.