It’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to manage dry season feed…

As the end of the wet season and the first round muster approaches it is time to start thinking about how you’re going to manage dry season feed. As minimal grass growth occurs in the dry season due to little rainfall and cool temperatures, the grass available now needs to be managed carefully to sustain stock until the break of season (beginning of the next wet season). The two questions to consider at the end of the wet season are “Have we got enough feed for the stock that we are currently running until December?” and if not, “How much do we need to destock at the first muster?” So, how can we ensure we have enough available feed to sustain production and maintain land condition throughout the dry season?

Reflect on past experience!

Use your past experience to reflect on the impact of stocking rates on paddocks over previous dry seasons. The main question to consider is “How much grass was left over after the dry season?” If there wasn’t much, or any, grass available at the usual break of season this is a good indication that the stocking rate is too high. Compare the grass production this wet to similar wet seasons past, and again consider the question of how much grass was leftover.

Were there some paddocks that had more grass leftover, than others? Were there areas that were overgrazed while others were underutilised? Perhaps the distance between water points is too far and cattle are not utilising the entire paddock, or are selectively grazing preferred land types. Fencing or water infrastructure might be required to improve utilisation, or the stocking rate may need adjusting. Considering what has and hasn’t worked well previously and making changes accordingly is a producers most effective grazing management tool.

Match stocking rate to available pasture

To ensure there is enough feed available through the dry season, stocking rate needs to be matched to carrying capacity. You can access indicative stocking rates from local DAF staff or the FutureBeef website as a starting point. MyFORAGE on The Long Paddock website is also available to provide indicative reports including a long-term carrying capacity report, indicative land type report and ground cover report. Assess the land types within each of your paddocks, observe the pasture availability, compare your current stocking rates to the indicative stocking rates and make stock adjustments accordingly.

Do a simple pasture budget

Another tool is to estimate how long a specific number of animals can stay in a paddock until the break of season while ensuring there is enough stubble left to maximise response to the first rain. The break of season in the northern dry tropics is defined as 50mm falling across three days. Used in conjunction with stocking rate recommendations and your knowledge of the property, this can be a useful tool to guide dry season carrying capacity. Assuming an adult equivalent beast (1AE) of 450kg will eat approximately 8kg of dry matter per day, try these simple calculations:

Number of head paddock will carry until the break of season

= Total useful pasture (kg/ha) x Paddock size (ha)
8kg x Length grazing period (days)

Number of days feed will last

= Total useful pasture (kg/ha) x Paddock size (ha)
8kg x Number of AE


Total useful pasture (kg/ha)
1. Determine pasture yield on average across the paddock using pasture yield photos.2500kg/ha
2. Estimate the percentage of 3P grasses and determine the useable pasture yield.80% of 2500kg/ha = 2000kg/ha
3. Determine pasture yield consumed, assuming they will eat 25% (safe utilisation rate).25% of 2000kg/ha = 500kg/ha
Length of grazing period (days)
1. Estimate the days to break of the season. To be safe, choose a break of season date that is met 70–80% of the time.1st April to 1st January = 270 days

Number of head paddock will carry until the break of season

500kg/ha x 1800ha
8kg x 270 days
= 417AE

Don’t be afraid of leftover grass!

More cattle doesn’t necessarily mean more profit if the pasture isn’t available to sustain them. Animal production decreases when stocking rate increases above what is suitable for that land type (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The effect on animal production as stocking rate increases.

The opposite is true. One example is at Blanncourt Station, near Georgetown, where animal production improved when they reduced their breeders by 27%. Over a 15-year period, land condition improved and weaning rates increased by 20%.

Stubble and ground cover should be maintained above 50% at the break of the season for improved pasture response and reduced erosion potential. Pasture recovery and production will be greater over the wet season, providing more feed and potentially more profit long term. This approach also ensures that the 3P grasses (perennial, productive, palatable) do not decline over time, providing quality feed throughout the year.

Don’t wait until it’s too late to make decisions about managing dry season feed. Through reflecting on past experience, matching stocking rates to available feed and doing simple pasture budgeting calculations you can bring your cattle through the dry season in good condition with plenty of feed.