Perennial Pastures On Old Penola Estate
By R. L. Griffiths
One of the most interesting properties visited by 'The Chronicle' tour ing party during their trip around the South East was Old Penola Estate, owned by Mr. John Rymill. This property took the third award in the Large Farm Section of 'The Chronicle' pasture improvement competition, and would probably have been even higher on the list if a good deal of the pasture improvement work had not been done before the period of the competition.
This is entirely a perennial area and the sooner we get rid of all annual plants the better,' said Mr. Rymill who proceeded to prove the correctness of this statement during the progress of the tour. The property is now 4,000 acres in area, out was ori- ginally much larger, a large proportion of it having been made available for War Service Land Settlement farms, including an area large enough to settle two ex-servicemen which Mr. Rymill presented free of charge. Old Penola Estate is the oldest property in the South East, being first taken up in 1838 when the first part of the homestead was built. This part of the homestead is in as good condition to- day as when first built. It consists of red gum slabs from trees which grew on the property, worked to a smooth and even surface with broad axe and adze, and fitted horizontally be- tween grooved uprights, fastened with wooden dowels. No nails were used in this part of the build- ing. Pasture development started in 1939, and in this and the following year super was used and sub. clover sown. Mr. Rymill still believes that, for the initial raising of fertility, and of nitrogen level, sub. clover is useful, but that it should be replaced after a few years with all perennial species. One Man Unit The war stopped any fur- ther development until 1945, when the present scheme began. The policy is to develop at the rate of 600 acres a year with a one man unit provided with the nec- essary tractor and imple- ments. The initial culti- vation is done with a duck foot scarifier, the land is twice disc harrowed, rolled, sown, and again rolled. Most of this estate con- sists of heavy fiat land, some of which has been very wet in the past years, and is entirely suitable for strawberry clover. The pasture mixture varies a little but is mostly straw- berry clover, with perennial rye grass and phalaris. Mr. Rymill stated that O'Connor's strawberry clo- ver has proved to be almost useless in this environment, so now the Palestine strain is exclusively used, being sown at the rate of 1 lb. of seed per acre. Some times black medic is also sown, to provide a bulk of fodder while the Palestine is getting established. A rather unusual practice is to sow the Perennial rye and Phalaris grasses in strips of one drill width al-
ternatively, to allow the phalaris to establish with- out too much competition. Mr. Rymill is quite sure that the GB81 strain of phalaris, developed at the Waite Agricultural Re- search Institute, is the most palatable grass on the place. The fertiliser used is one bag of super when seeding, another bag per acre the follow- ing year, and then subse- quently half a bag per acre annually. Seven lb. of copper and seven lb. of zinc are used every 10 years, and 1 lb. of cobalt each five years. Pastures were an ex- cellent blend of grasses and clovers. They grow so well all the rear round that Mr. Rymill now finds no need for a fodder con- servation programme. There has never been a case of rye grass of pha laris staggers, nor of bloat on the property. In 1949, 3.000 sheep and 250 cattle were carried. Now, in 1954 there are 10,400 sheep and between 500 and 600 cattle — a re- markable advance. The general carrying capacity in thus equivalent to four sheep per acre. Except for a stud flock of 300 Corriedales, the sheep are a Merino-Corriedale cross, which is continuous. Thus a ewe which was sired by a Corriedale ram is her self mated to a Merino, and vice versa. It would ap- pear that this system works, as the sheep are large framed and very even in conformation. Line Breeding The cattle are Aberdeen Angus, of which 300 cows are mated each year. The herd is wonderfully even in conformation, and the foundation sire was that noted Scottish sire Elphin- stone of Balfron. Line weeding is practised along the blood lines of this sire, and this is one reason for the evenness of conforma- tion. Heifers are mated at 18 months of age, and their raising of the calves care fully watched. If the first calf is not satisfactorily raised the dam is dis- carded. This practice has raised the calving percent age from 80 p.c. to 100 p c Mr. Rymill raises his own lulls, watching the line breeding carefully. The property is all di- vided into paddocks of 300 acres, and it is intended to further divide these pad docks east and west. Sheep are mated in February corresponding to the middle mating period as being tested at Kybybolite Re- search Station. This prac- tice has raised the lamb ing percentage from 90 p c. to over 100 p.c. The ewes cut an average of 12 lb. of wool and the wethers 15 lb. Control Of Footrot Mr. Rymill. told the party that diseases cause little trouble. Footrot is well controlled by using one man for each 2,000 sheep in the flock and spending two months of the year en- tirely on footrot work. A special patented pram or frame is used to up-end and hold the sheep for all foot operations, reducing the necessary labor to a minimum. There has been no entero-toxaemia, and very few worms; weaners
are drenched for worms, but not the older sheep. Fences and all perma- nent improvements were in keeping with the general good development of the property. The tourists were specially interested in fenc- ing posts of a rustless alloy, guaranteed to last 40 years in saline country. The arrangements for stock watering were also much commended. Under
ground water is found at 20 feet. Mills and iron tanks on a concrete base are pro- vided, with long concrete watering troughs, around which is an apron of con crete to prevent excessive muddiness around the water. As an example of good development and careful management. Old Penola Estate would be hard to beat.
A group of Aberdeen Angus cows with their first calves on Old Penola Station.