Looking back in time: Can safe pasture utilisation rates be determined using commercial paddock data in the Northern Territory?

  • Walsh D
  • Cowley R
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Abstract

A ‘safe’ pasture utilisation rate is defined as the proportion of annual forage growth that can be consumed by domestic livestock without adversely affecting land condition in the long term. Pasture utilisation rates are thus a cornerstone of a sustainable grazing industry because they directly determine livestock carrying capacity. Until now, it has only been possible to determine utilisation rates in the Northern Territory via expensiveand time-consuming grazing trials. Reliance on this method has limited the validation of safe utilisation rates for the range of land types used for pastoral production. This study tested an alternative cost-effective method for calculating utilisation rates based on an approach used previously in Queensland. The method retrospectively calculates utilisation rates using cattle records and modelled pasture growth from commercial paddocks in good land condition. The assumption underpinning the method is that paddocks in good land condition, with a long history of grazing, must have been managed in such a way as to achieve a safe level of pasture utilisation. Utilisation rates were calculated for 10 commercial paddocks on three properties in the Barkly Tableland region of the Northern Territory from 1999 to 2009. Animal intake for each paddock was calculated from detailed cattle records held in property databases. Pasture growth was estimated using simulation models and cross-checked with field measurements.Anaverage utilisation rate ofupto25%of annual pasture growthwasfound tobe safeonhighly uniform, grey cracking-clays supporting Mitchell grass (Astrebla F. Muell. spp.) pastures. However, this level of utilisation had negative impacts on land condition on less resilient and preferentially grazed pasture communities in paddocks with a mix of land types. The implications of the results for carrying capacity, animal productivity and seasonal risk management are explored in this paper.

Author-supplied keywords

  • carrying capacity
  • land condition
  • livestock grazing
  • stocking rates

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Authors

  • Dionne Walsh

  • Robyn A. Cowley

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