30 June 2000

Integrated strategy is key to improved pasture and stock

MANY beef producers in Brazil rely on permanent grassland, but for one producer, integrating arable and beef enterprises is the key to better quality pasture and cattle.

Valter Jose Pöttér, who farms 3700ha (9140 acres) at Guatambu in Rio Grande du Sul state in southern Brazil, grows rice, sorghum, soyabean and maize, and believes that cattle play an essential role in the system, which is based on rotations.

"Cattle facilitate the arable enterprise. However, because we have crops we can accelerate the beef production cycle and improve production. While our native pasture is good, improved pasture is better."

Better production means achieving a 365 day calving interval in the herds of Hereford and Braford – Hereford cross Nelore – cows, as well as breeding females at 14 months old, and slaughtering finished steers at 12-15 months old.

Performance is much better than many Brazilian farms; on average, 10% of heifers will calve at two-years-old, 45% at three years old and the remaining 45% at four years old, says Dr Pöttér.

Calving heifers at a younger age means genetic progress is much faster than in many other herds, and Dr Pöttér is keen to take full advantage of this.

Growth rates are also poorer, with most cattle gaining 700-800g a day on native pasture, while Dr Pöttérs cattle will gain about 1kg.

As an example, rice is usually grown across 500ha (1235 acres) each year. The crop is grown for one or two years on the same soil, then followed by four years in pasture to build up soil fertility and stop weed ingress. The pasture mixture is based on red clover, ryegrass and lotus, and is sown using an aeroplane at a cost of about £4/ha (£1.60/acre).

"We work at having good quality pasture, but rely on legumes to supply fertility rather than applying fertiliser."

IMPROVEDGRASSLAND

&#8226 Integrated rotation.

&#8226 Legumes to fix nitrogen.

&#8226 Improved cattle performance.

Rotating pasture with arable crops, such as rice and soyabean, allows good quality grazing and high cattle growth rates at Guatambu.