Small Talk Winter 2017

In this issue

Mother nature knows best – Improved farming systems to renew and regenerate soil

Animal health in the Adelaide Hills – Be vigilant with stock management over winter

Case study: Fleurieu Forward Farming – Local farmers network to share ideas, conduct trials and implement new practices

Managing cattle for quality eating – Tips for meeting Meat Standards Australia (MSA) criteria

Measuring soil water in Fleurieu pastures – An important part of managing crop and pasture growth 

Events – Find out what landholder events are planned for this winter

Handy hint – Apps for smarter farming

Things to do in winter – Get your property ready for the winter season

Mother nature knows best

Katrina Hewitt, Regional Landcare Facilitator, Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges, and Eliza Rieger, Regional Landcare Facilitator, NR SA Murray-Darling Basin

Soil 1

The crowd relaxes as Joel Salatin talks about the value of pasture cropping. Photo: Eliza Rieger

Soil – it’s the topic of the moment. International and Australian speakers are demonstrating farming systems that renew and regenerate soils, and farmers are reaping the benefits.

The South Australian No-Till Farmers Association’s annual conference at Tanunda in February explored soil health with a focus on diverse cover crops. The association has championed conservation agriculture in practice in broadacre farming for more than 17 years.

John Heermann from Colorado emphasised that worms, bugs and microbes in soil matter more than what is happening above the ground.

The best way to maximise rain capture, he said, is to increase diversity in the soil biology. He grows between 9 and 15 species in his cover crops, using them as a soil health primer alongside his grain and cash crops.

John said he believes there is a major role for animal grazing in his system. He said the plants seem to react to grazing by sending out roots to ‘heal themselves’ which then leads to an increase in biomass, carbon and carbohydrates into the soil.

But, he emphasised, the grazing must be controlled and matched to vegetation capacity.

John said he based his decisions on soil needs, weather prediction and environmental conditions. He had changed his system from 18 months of fallow and tillage to year round cropping, by maintaining a permanent groundcover and minimal chemical use. The benefits are not only environmental; he has increased production while decreasing inputs.

Soil 2

Falkai Farms ultra-portable infrastructure behind Joel Salatin and Katherine Snoswell. Photo: Eliza Rieger

Rick Bieber from South Dakota agreed with John’s principles of maintaining groundcover throughout cropping cycles. He led the audience through a journey to the new environment he had generated.

“If last year’s residues act as a canopy for this year’s plantings’ Rick said, ‘the atmosphere at ground level is altered.”

More moisture is retained, there’s less direct heat and cold, and more chemicals, such as carbon dioxide and oxygen, are available. These factors give the cotyledons a strong start to life, which Rick likened to a human baby’s first drink.

Later, at Currency Creek, the two-day Scratching the Surface: Soil Biology in Agriculture, looked at practical ways farmers can improve production outcomes through increasing soil biological health.

On day two more than 55 farmers converged on Nomad Farms, ready to kick the dirt with world famous regenerative farmer Joel Salatin and Australia’s own heavyweights Dick Richardson and Walter Jehne from Healthy Soils Australia.

Discussion ranged from the impact of plant roots on soil microbial communities and soil rehydration through to the benefits of multi-species manures on soil biological health.

The crowd took in plenty of food for thought as they visited pasture cropping, and innovative grazing and farm share trials implemented by 2015 State Landcare award winners Tom Bradman and Verity Slee.

They share their Finniss property with Katherine Snoswell and Luke Falkai who have just started up the mobile pastured egg business, Falkai Farm, based on Joel Salatin’s principles.

“A lot of things about this movement started with Joel,” Luke said.

With Joel Salatin by their side the young farmers explained the role of their converted caravan – now equipped to house 250 laying chickens – in the greater farming system.

Katherine explained that minimal cost, ultra-portable infrastructure allowed for a fast economic turnaround for their business.

“By following the cattle, our chickens help incorporate manure into the soil. In turn this encourages root growth and pasture development which benefits production outcomes for Nomad Farms.

“Gaining access to land is the biggest hurdle young farmers face as they’re trying to establish themselves. We are so fortunate to be able to collaborate with Nomad Farms, and start farming right away.”

At the end of the day, Tom said that knowledge, experience and inspiration combined with positivity about future possibilities created the best field day they’d been a part of.

“It was equal parts community and education. I think everyone was left with a huge sense of potential. We certainly were. It was also great to share the day with Falkai Farm, who we’re so lucky to be sharing some land with.”

Soil 3

The crowd at Nomad Farm take a walk through the regenerating pasture paddock. Photo: Eliza Rieger

This farm walk was jointly hosted by the Ranges to River Natural Resources Management Group, SA Murray-Darling Basin Natural Resources Management (NRM) Board, Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges NRM Board and Kangaroo Island NRM Board with funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme, NRM Levy and Regional Landcare Facilitator Programme.

You can access the presentations from Scratching the Surface forum via Youtube.

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Animal health in the Adelaide Hills

Dr Jeremy Rogers, Senior Veterinary Officer, Biosecurity, Primary Industries and Regions SA

Animal health 1 - Worms

A heavy infestation of Barber’s Pole worms in the fourth stomach of a Mallee lamb. Photo: Jeremy Rogers

Autumn and winter is the time for small landholders in the Adelaide Hills to be especially vigilant in stock management and watch for unusual signs or combinations of factors.

At this time of year edible grasses and plants for livestock become scarce. Good quality hay and supplements need to be fed, particularly if young ones, such as lambs, kids and calves, are at foot.

Supplement feed is often supplied on the ground to animals, which could increase the risk of spread of worms and bacterial agents that cause diarrhoea. After the prolonged 2016 rainy season and cooler than normal summer, more worm eggs have survived to cause very severe worm problems for most animal species this autumn.

Animal health 2 - Sheep

Sheep found dead from Barber’s Pole worms in the Mallee region. Photo: Jeremy Rogers

How do I know if my livestock need treatment for worms?

Collect a sample of fresh manure and take it to your veterinarian or livestock agent for analysis. The results will help the agent give you advice on whether the animals need treatment or not.

If the animals have diarrhoea (scouring) and are looking unwell, worms are a likely cause. Get advice immediately on hygiene, management and treatment of the animals, for their survival and to prevent spread through the mob. Again, your vet, a PIRSA vet or Animal Health Officer, or a livestock agent can help.

This year we have seen a number of cases of probably the worst kind of worm – Barber’s Pole worm (Haemonchus contortis) in the Adelaide Hills and Mallee–Murraylands.

This parasite kills sheep and goats without signs of scouring, and with very few symptoms. Check your stock closely. Look for very pale gums or eyelids as the worms consume blood and animals die from anaemia. Healthy looking lambs or even adult sheep can be found suddenly dead from this parasite. If a number of your stock suddenly die, or become very sick, call your vet or PIRSA for advice.

Over winter and spring, foot conditions like footrot in sheep, or skin conditions, can appear. Common plants can also be dangerous to animals at this time of year – for example, be wary of soursob in May–June before the first major rains as it can kill sheep and goats rapidly.

Notify PIRSA 

PIRSA is always interested in reports of unusual diseases, sicknesses or deaths in livestock, including poultry and wildlife, so they can be aware of early signs of a new or emerging disease. Contact PIRSA Animal Health staff Dr Jeremy Rogers (0427 608 133) or Ella Duldig (0408 897 583), or ring the emergency hotline 1800 675 888.

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Case study: Fleurieu Forward Farming 

Katrina Hewitt, Regional Landcare Facilitator, and Jeff Edwards, Sustainable Agriculture Officer, Fleurieu and Willunga Basin, NR AMLR

 Fleurieu farmers 1

Peter Filsell shared his own farm innovations at the Technical Update Field Day, Parawa. Photo: Jeff Edwards

  • Landholders: Fleurieu Forward Farming Group, backed by Agricultural Bureau SA, has members from Parawa Agricultural Bureau, Fleurieu Beef Group, SA Regenerative Farmers, Mt Jagged Dairy Discussion Group and local farm consultants
  • Property locations: Southern Fleurieu Peninsula
  • Average commercial farm size: Variable 80–300+ hectares
  • Current enterprises: Mainly high value grazing (including dairy, beef and prime lamb) with some dryland cropping and horticulture
  • Average annual rainfall: 500–900 mm 

On the southern Fleurieu Peninsula, networking with local farmers to share ideas, conduct local trials and implement new practices is recognised as the best way to improve business decision making, and is being put into practice.

Fleurieu Forward Farming is a newly formed, locally based, farming systems network implementing home grown, farm-based trials and information sharing on issues such as soil health, productivity improvement and sustainability.

Peter Filsell, Chair of Fleurieu Forward Farming, said that the group’s main objective was to improve the health and viability of farms on the Fleurieu Peninsula.

‘We aim to do this by conducting local research, developing demonstration sites and communicating on projects that help improve productivity, profitability and sustainability of farming in the region,’ he said.

The Fleurieu Forward Farming Group began in late 2015 when, with the support of the Agricultural Bureau of South Australia, members from agribusiness groups in the region formed a steering committee. The groups included Parawa Agricultural Bureau, Fleurieu Beef Group, SA Regenerative Farmers and Mt Jagged Dairy Discussion Group.

Fleurieu Forward Farming recognises the value in connecting with local farmers to help make viable decisions on farm so their first field day was a significant moment.

The group actively supported and helped run the Technology Update Field Day in Delamere in April, in partnership with Sheep Connect SA and the University of Adelaide. The day was one for getting farmers together to gain information on a range of topics and demonstrating new agricultural products.

Fleurieu farmers 2

Brian Hughes spoke about increasing effective and efficient outcomes from a liming strategy. Photo: Katrina Hewitt 

Peter said he was always looking at innovative ways to boost production and improve the efficiency of running the farm.

‘Having Sheep Connect and the University of Adelaide support a field day on the lower Fleurieu is a great way to bring new information to local growers,’ Peter said.

Fleurieu Forward Farming Group began at the beginning by developing a strategic approach and gaining funding for its implementation. The funding came from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme through Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Natural Resources Management Board.

Part of this funding has been put to engaging Paul Erkelenz to manage projects and support the group – and free up landholders to get on with their day jobs.

The group initiated a project of reviewing and collating historical soil research data that would identify where future work could be done.

‘We are very fortunate to have had the enthusiastic support of locally based rural consultants who have been willing to share their knowledge with us,’ Peter said.

Fleurieu Forward Farming member Melissa Rebbeck from Climate and Agricultural Support, said that a range of research methods was used to locate and review any documentation.

‘It started from the 1970s where the focus was on soil nutrition, and taking the journey through issues of acid soils, introduction of dung beetles, earthworms and alternative fertilisers to the present times,’ Melissa said.

The group has used this information to understand the fundamental aims and goals for grazing enterprises on the Fleurieu Peninsula at both an individual and regional level. It is also revealing how the systems approach might be adopted within farming management.

A key finding was a need to conduct relevant soil research and demonstration sites in the region.

Fleurieu Forward Farming is implementing a series of trials around soil health, including soil pH and biota.

In its small plot trial at Willow Creek, it is looking at the potential benefits of combining biochar with fertiliser while establishing a new acid tolerant variety of Lucerne and Phalaris pasture. The group’s website shows a video capturing the sowing of these pastures with comments from the landowner.

The group is also investigating the impacts of different farming systems on soil health indicators.

Fleurieu farmers 3

Melissa Rebbeck, Climate and Agricultural Support, gave an update on Fleurieu Forward Farming projects. Photo: Katrina Hewitt

Through the soil acidity mapping project, Brian Hughes is finding a wide pH variation across the paddock with up to two units difference and, that it is not always possible to understand what the contributing factors might be. Brian spoke at the field day on precision pH and EC mapping for pasture systems (see the autumn 2017 edition of Small Talk).

Brian said that there were many factors, such as soil types, depth of rock and clay, as well as landscape patterns and grazing regimes that influence soil pH.

The group is now able to use the results of mapping to implement liming strategies aiming for cost effective and efficient outcomes. Over 300 ha will be included and the results should give information on the accuracy of the technique and how moisture storage capacity of different soil profiles can be identified.

Where to from here?

Fleurieu Forward Farming aims to continue to provide a network for local farmers to share innovative ideas and experiences to improve soil and pasture health. As its website develops and networks grow, the group will keep local farmers up to date with newsletters, access to farm trial results and projects. 

Fleurieu Forward Farming Group is open to all farmers on the Fleurieu Peninsula.

Find out more

If you want to know more contact Peter Filsell on 8598 0223, or Melissa Rebbeck on 0427 273 727. 

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Managing cattle for quality eating

Katrina Hewitt, Regional Landcare Facilitator, Natural Resources AMLR

Cattle health

South Australian cattle. Photo: Jock and Sue Agnew, Australian Limousin Breeders’ Society Ltd

We see Meat Standards Australia, or MSA, stickers on meat in supermarkets and butchers across Australia. The Australian red meat industry developed the standards to improve the eating quality and consistency of beef and sheep meat.

But how does the management of animals through their life give us better quality eating?

Dr Michael Wilkes says that cattle need to be educated and calm with adequate magnesium, copper and zinc in their diet. Their diet should remain consistent in transporting and they should arrive clean to the slaughter yard.

Michael has been researching the management of cattle to meet beef MSA criteria. He presented his findings at the recent Fleurieu Peninsula and Kangaroo Island Beef and Sheep Technology and Research Update in Delamere.

Michael conducted his research in the southeast of South Australia on 5800 grass-fed cattle which technically met all MSA criteria.

He gathered data on the animals’ history including husbandry and movement management, supplementary feeding, minerals, general health and management from the farm gate; on the pastures, documenting mineral deficiencies, food on offer and nutritional values; and on blood and liver samples taken at slaughter.

He said that consistency is harder to manage with grass fed or pasture fed beef than with feedlot cattle. Seasonal fluctuations with pasture growth and nutrition translate into compliance issues of insufficient rib fat and dark cutting. Crash feeding and stock movement within two weeks of slaughter also influence the standard of beef.

A critical factor in MSA quality assessment is dark cutting – the shade red meat turns to when it is slaughtered. If the pH is around 5.7 and there is enough energy, the meat maintains a good red colour; if not, the meat turns into a dark shade of red, which does not meet the MSA standard.

A range of factors influence dark cutting but energy conservation is critical to avoiding it.

Animals without enough magnesium have diminished energy metabolism and stress response, which reduces the energy available to the animal at slaughter.

Getting animals ready for slaughter and managing them at the yards, are critical times. Mobs moved to fresh feed in an effort to ‘fatten them up’ before transportation did not gain extra energy. The data suggested that changes in feed quantity and quality disrupted intake while the animal’s rumen adapted to the new food source.

Cattle arriving dirty to the yards and needing more pre-slaughter washing, to meet food safety standards, were stressed by the process and used up glycogen (muscle energy). The same applied to cattle that were nervous and jumping around.

Michael also found that animals with deficiencies in copper and zinc had impaired marble score and rib fat depth.

And cattle that had not made the ‘grade’ at 24 months and were carried over into the next season, usually still did not meet the MSA criteria. 

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Measuring soil water in Fleurieu pastures

Rebecca Tonkin, Tonkin Agriculture and Soil Consulting

Measuring water in soil

A soil moisture probe from Integrated Precision Viticulture, McLaren Vale, showing (1) Outer casing of probe, (2) Battery pack (modem on reverse side), (3) Brass rings are the electrical sensors, (4) Cap for casing. Photo: Rebecca Tonkin

Knowing how much water is available in the soil for plants to use is an important part of managing crop and pasture growth.

Soil moisture probes measure soil moisture constantly, without having to take soil out of the ground to dry and weigh. The probes, often used in horticulture or viticulture to manage irrigation, are becoming more widely used in hay or pasture production to help with timing of fertiliser applications or grazing.

A cylindrical sample of soil is removed from the ground, and the probe is placed in the hole. All components are encased in a plastic cover which allows the electrical fields to pass through but protects the equipment from moisture and animals. A battery powers the circuits, and a small modem accesses the mobile phone network so that data can be uploaded to a website every 4–6 hours. In areas without network coverage, the data is stored and manually downloaded.

Sensors in the probe are spaced at different depths below the ground, throughout and below the root zone. They send out an electrical pulse at set intervals, generally every half an hour, and readings show soil moisture levels throughout each day.

Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges NRM Board is funding Fleurieu Forward Farming Group to use similar soil moisture probes to gain information about soil water under different pasture management methods. 

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Sign up for our monthly landholder events calendar for a list of upcoming field days, workshops and courses run by Natural Resources, community groups and industry groups by emailing

To view the latest calendar, click the link under the Education tab at

If you would like Natural Resources staff to run a specific event for your organisation, please get in touch.


8 week practical guide to rural land management

June–July 2017 tbc
For more information contact Caroline Dorr
Mobile: 0408 000 842

Field days/Forums

Drop in for a chat about your horse property

10 June
Coopers Rural, Mylor
258 Strathalbyn Road, Mylor

Prune in June

17 June
Willunga Farmers Market

2017 State Community Landcare Conference

11–13 September
Clare, South Australia

Landholder events are supported by funding from your NRM levy and the Australian Government.

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Handy hint - Apps for smarter farming

Handy hint

The Agriwebb app

Apps have become an essential part of life on the land – apps for site and weather conditions; apps showing what national and international markets are doing; apps for new management practices for animals and crops; apps that are business tools.

They all make great claims but how do you choose what will work for your needs?

A product table at a recent field day in Delamere showed the app AgriWebb.

The app is a bit of fun to work with – touch screen, drag and drop, and a range of graphs predicting DSEs and yields. It is based around your farm map and claims to be ‘a simple and easy to use tool that uses on farm data to make your farm more efficient and profitable [with] records at your fingertips’.

It was developed by a producer northeast of Port Augusta, along with others in the industry. It can work off-line and updates your inputs when you are back in range.

Try the trial version at

For more information contact Will Daley at AgriWebb:

Phone: (03) 8393 0698
Mobile: 0447 763 070

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Things to do - winter

  • Watch for ‘grass tetany’ in stock on grass dominant pastures in high rainfall areas. Herds start walking stiffly, have muscle spasms and convulsions, roll the eyes and froth at the mouth. A soil test will determine your risk. If needed, give herds a magnesium supplement.
  • If your pasture is dominated by Guildford Grass, apply a herbicide between late June and July before the leaves brown off. Guildford Grass is not toxic but can cause intestinal obstructions as fibrous material builds up.
  • Keep livestock out of waterlogged areas. They damage the soil and soil cover, and can develop health problems such as botulism, footrot, foot abscesses or greasy heel.
  • Be on the lookout for two other weeds: Cape Tulip can quickly dominate pastures and is very toxic to livestock; Bridal Creeper creates a dense mat that prevents other plants from growing through it, and is one of South Australia’s worst threats to native vegetation.
  • As the weather starts to change in August, control weeds in revegetation areas, lock up hay paddocks mid-growth for maximum growth, manage grazing pressure on pastures to stop them getting too long and ‘rank’, and worm test sheep and cattle.

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Related links

Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges