Tim McGlade was never going to be a dairy farmer, but back in 1987 he started helping to milk in the mornings before work and by the end of the year he was farming full time.
Twenty-seven years later he’s improving the practice as part of the Green Pastures initiative.
It all started in April of 2012 when Camperdown Compost came up with a way for farmers to farm sustainably and utilise their waste. Once they had ﬁve local families on board, the Green Pastures movement was born.
“We’ve worked pretty closely with them (Camperdown Compost), they’ve brought clients on to see our composting process and how we utilise all our waste and since we’d been helping them over the years, they gave us the opportunity,” Tim McGlade said.
The McGlade’s have been biologically farming for the last 6 years, so they didn’t have to change much to become a part of Green Pastures.
“If we want to put out a nitrogen solid, instead of just going and putting straight urea on, we might use a magnesium sulphate or ammonia sulphate with a carbon source. If you don’t put a carbon source then you’re damaging your soil, so we found out how important bugs are in your soil. Every time you put raw urea out, it kills your bugs,” McGlade said.
What they do is to spread a biological spray which they’ve made up themselves, with a carbon source like sea minerals, kelp, and sometimes calcium as well. It’s a soil drench and a fertiliser at the same time, diluted with waste efﬂuent as opposed to plain water.
From the dairy they have a channel which leads to an efﬂuent pond and catches all of the waste efﬂuent run off from the cows. This pond is full of nutrients and minerals which gives the biological spray a double hit.
Once sprayed on the pasture, they leave it for a couple of weeks and watch the grass grow. They know that this method has been enhancing their pasture by completing brix tests.
“We did a course up at the Sunshine coast 5 years ago and found out about brix levels in your pas-ture,” McGlade said, “before we started doing this, our brix levels were 1 or 2, but now it’s up to nearly 14.”
A brix test reads the sugar levels in the grass. This is done by picking some grass and rubbing it between your hands and then squeezing the juice onto the refractor. You then hold it up to the light and look through the lens to see what level it is at.
When the nitrate levels are high, the brix number is low. By balancing out the nitrate and sugar levels, you get a healthier plant to feed to the cows. They get a bit of grain as well, and some silage, along with hay, for a balanced diet but the grass is their main food source.
To further aid in producing the most nutritious grass possible, composting plays a large part in the methods of farming.
“It’s pretty simple but there’s a lot of work in it, a lot of time in setting up the composting. That’s why not a lot do it, I believe,” McGlade said.
They combine a mixture of waste hay, solid manure (full of minerals and fertiliser), they might add a bit of lime to it and wood chips, and heat it all up to 60-70 degrees Celsius to kill all of the bugs.
“The wood chips are a carbon source so every time you put the compost out you’re putting out carbon which is great for the soil in lifting the carbon levels,” McGlade said.
By making their practice environmentally friendly, unlike many Australian companies who are continually polluting the environment, the farmers of the Green Pastures movement are putting carbon back into the pastures, “It’s a great cycle and a good story. I believe that we’re going the right way,” McGlade said.
Further proof comes with the reappearance of clover in their pastures and the amount of worms they now have. With 22-24 worms appearing in a shovel full, that’s when you know it is good compost and that they are on the right track.
“That’s the thing about farming, you change your mind all the time. If you don’t question what you’re doing, then you’re just going to keep doing the same thing. Putting in new pasture etc. you’re al-ways trying to work out a better way to do it be-cause the grass is the most important thing in the diet for the cow.”
This article first appeared in the Australia Times Australian Grown magazine.