Each month, Australian Mineral Fertilisers help coordinate a newsletter highlighting a local grower and a few words from an industry expert, as seen in the Great Southern Weekender.
Improving Livestock Health by Re-Mineralising the Soil.
By Veterinarian & Ruminant Nutritionist, Adrian Baker
Adrian Baker is a consultant veterinarian with over 25 years’ experience in the ruminant production landscape. Adrian is passionate about sustainable agricultural practices and specialises in sheep and cattle health.
Western Australian soils are some of the most ancient soils in the world. Not only have these soils been naturally leached for thousands of years, conventional agricultural production is accelerating this nutrient loss whenever plant or animal produce is removed from the land. It is therefore logical that nutrients need to be replaced at a similar rate to any losses from the system. How is this to be done in a way most expedient for plant production, animal production, environmental sustainability and viability?
The conventional approach has been to manage N, P, K, S levels and soil acidification. Producers are continually asking more of genetically improved livestock and have greater plant production to sustain them. This traditional approach is not sustainable as it fails to recognise the importance of the full spectrum of minerals and trace elements and their correlation to plant and stock health. It also fails to actively address soil health and the symbiotic relationship between plants and soil microbes. The great southern region of WA is notoriously deficient in trace elements (particularly copper, cobalt and selenium) that are critically important to animal metabolism and enzyme systems that maintain health and production. There will always be a place for the tactical supply of minerals and trace elements directly to livestock to meet critical demand – however the most cost-effective means of strategic application is via the soil and plants.
This biological approach is an exciting phase that has already begun in some agricultural systems in Western Australia. Manipulation of soil biology together with customized, slow release nutrient application is the most recent chapter in the development of agronomic systems, in an effort to return those nutrients and re-mineralise the soil. It redirects the historical sequence of land clearing, physical soil treatments and generic chemical augmentation of soils. This latest development is yielding quantum improvements in productivity, resilience, disease resistance and nutritive value of pastures and crops and this has subsequent benefits for not only animal production systems, but our own health.
Energy and protein availability are always the first limiting factors to animal production but there are further constraints once these requirements are met. Feed quality is as important as quantity if high levels of production are anticipated. Deficiencies of minerals, trace elements and vitamins can be a truly limiting factor to animal health and performance.
There is a need to revisit traditional farming practices to ensure that systems remain ecologically and economically sustainable. Fortunately, there are tools at hand to assist with the implementation of a logical approach to improved Nutrient Use Efficiency (NUE). The Mediterranean climate of this region has fostered the development of a traditional annual pasture and cropping system but this system is extremely challenging for the maintenance of soil biota. The application of soil microbes, the promotion of deeper rooted perennials and the retention of organic residues to protect subterranean life all contribute to improved soil health and ultimately improved animal health and production. The use of comprehensive soil testing to monitor macro-minerals, trace nutrients and soil pH is an important tool to understanding soil condition in order to optimise productivity and utilisation. Re-mineralising the soil and biology addresses these challenges by taking a more holistic approach to the health of a farming system. Livestock producers such as Iron Gate Wagyu in the Great Southern region have already adopted these principles and recognise the benefits. Active management of soil biology is delivering benefits for livestock above the soil surface.
Waygu Cattle Stud & Beef Producer, Irongate Wagyu
Local Grower is a segment that highlights local farmers and agricultural producers with a sustainable focus. These growers are operating in a manner that reduces their carbon footprint, actively growing healthier and more nutritious produce and protecting the environment for generations to come.
Irongate Wagyu are a local beef producer and a significant wagyu stud in Western Australia. Irongate manage a thousand hectares of pasture in the Kalgan area of Albany, running over seven hundred grass-fed fullblood wagyu breeders. The Gilmour family have been running Irongate Wagyu for twelve years whilst farming in the Great Southern for over fifty years. Irongate is at the forefront of refined genetic selection and feed management to produce premium, fodder fed wagyu beef. To achieve this feeder cattle must be on a rising plain of nutrition throughout their entire life. Originating in Japan, the wagyu breed is a renowned beef delicacy known for its unique marbling (intra muscular fat) effect in the meat.
Irongate’s pasture manager, Tom Dinneen is passionate about re-mineralising the soil in order to gain the necessary animal nutrition in their fodder. By re-mineralising and adding soil biology, there has been a noticeable improvement in cattle health and vigour.
Since shifting to a more biological agricultural system, Irongate have reduced their need for chemical pesticides and drastically improved their nutrient use efficiency (NUE). If additional feed is required during calving, it is sourced from a local hay grower to reduce the carbon footprint turnaround. Tom plans to continue to build Irongate’s hay and feed production in order to develop a self-sustainable feeding program.
Today Irongate have built an international reputation to produce some of finest wagyu in Australia, and have their beef products and breeding cattle sent all over the world. Due to the fine dining nature and high global demand for wagyu, it can be a challenge for it in local restaurants. If you are fortuitous enough to find some in WA, the chances are it’s locally grown, Irongate genetics.