Integrating livestock into a continuous cropping system

By Jamie Salter

Integrating livestock into a continuous grain cropping enterprise can build farm resilience, according to 2018 Nuffield Scholar Stuart McDonald.

Mr McDonald said continuous cropping systems created new revenue streams, improved the utilisation of natural water resources on-farm, and produced a healthier soil ecosystem.

“Travelling to New Zealand, I saw firsthand the benefits driven to growers who integrated winter grazing into their operation,” he said.

“Many of the large breeding operations in New Zealand operate in an environment where they run out of traditional feed every autumn and winter.

“To supplement feeding during these periods, many farms I visited had a fodder crop worked into their rotation systems to ensure stock are supplied with high-quality finishing feed.

“The grazing crops were planted to suit the period of generally low feed availability experienced on breeding operations, which in New Zealand were the winter months when low temperatures shut down native feed production.”

Mr McDonald said rotational crop diversity provided more options for income generation than grain only systems and greater versatility in planning times and harvest.

“Livestock have the unique ability to turn plant cellulose into high value protein and, as a result, can generate income from a resource that otherwise has little monetary value,” he said.

Mr McDonald said a key benefit to introducing livestock to a continuous cropping enterprise was improved soil health.

“When livestock are integrated with soil health in mind, there is an opportunity to build a system that allows soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and people and generates extra returns.”