Strip grazing sheep saves vineyard huge costs
Cumulus Wines Estate crafts cool-climate wines in Orange and central NSW. Established in the early 1990s, the ambitious founders planted a 508-hectare vineyard and built a 10,000-tonne winery.
Today, Cumulus grows 10 red and white wine grape varieties and exports more than 40% of its vintage.
A sheep-growing neighbour approached Cumulus to strip graze his Merinos in the vineyard.
Vineyard Manager Russell Quilty says, “Our viticulturist has had a bit of experience with that, so we started off with a strip of 100-odd hectares because we only had to put up a short fence. It was pretty successful, so we kept going all through winter until the middle of September, for five months.”
200 labour hours saved
“While we had a very good autumn here, grazing the vineyard obviously gives our neighbour more feed in drier years. For us, we made money and saved money, all in one go. We made money in agisting the sheep, and saved money by not having to slash and spray herbicides."
"Our cost savings were around $15,000 when you take fuel, herbicide and labour into account. It takes four people around 200 hours to slash the vineyard, so that’s also time saved those workers can be doing something else.”
Saving the slashing pass and herbicide pass before pruning also helped to reduce earth compaction in the vineyard.
Easy set up
Russell says they wanted posts they could easily put into the ground, and run wires through as they went.
“We buy most of our ag chemicals and inputs through Landmark Mudgee, so we told them what we wanted and they recommended the Gallagher treadin. The price was right, so we went ahead.”
The hot tip on the Gallagher 1080mm-tall Live Tip Treadin won't wear through, preventing short outs; and, being live, also prevents animals rubbing against it or pushing it over. These treadins, which have a 10-year warranty, also have an adjustable second insulator.
“We had the initial cost of buying the posts and wire, but now that we’ve got them, we can just roll them up, put them in the shed, and bring them out again next year. We didn’t have much experience with setting it up, but it was pretty easy: just a matter of running out some wires, putting in a few steel posts and strainers and the Gallagher treadins in between."
“We began with two wires, and they worked terrifically well with the older ewes. Come June, they went back for lambing and were replaced with a mob of younger lambs. We needed a third wire for the lambs, but once we’d done that, we didn’t have any problems.”
With the success of the first 100ha, Cumulus then strip grazed the rest of the vineyard.
Russell says, “We have 508ha of actual vineyard, but it’s just over 600ha when you take into account headlands, areas around dams and things like that. So out of the 600ha, we gave the sheep access to about 550ha.
“We split the vineyard into five different paddocks, rotating through them and keeping the sheep together. We kept the strip-grazed areas large because we still need to move through, and we have a lot of people coming and going — particularly pruning labour.”
With the owner of the sheep being a direct neighbour, transport costs were nil.
“We didn’t have too much experience with it, but overall it was a success and pretty hassle free really. Because it proved so successful, we’re going to have an ongoing relationship with these neighbours strip grazing their sheep each winter now.”