Paddock Power: unlocking the secrets to sustainable and profitable intensification

Many breeder paddocks in northern Australia are too big and under-watered to achieve optimum productivity. In the Barkly Tableland region, for example, average paddock area is 218 km² (21 800 hectares) and some are more than 1000 km². These large, poorly watered paddocks impact on reproduction and profitability: there’s over-and under-utilised feed (depending on distance from water), incomplete musters and limited opportunities to implement herd segregation, controlled mating or tactical pasture management.

Walking long distances out to feed erodes live weight gain and body condition. In turn, the negative impact of poor body condition on re-conception and calf survival rates further reduces productivity. Some producers speculate that high rates of calf wastage (>20%) in large poorly-watered paddocks may be caused by cows leaving newborn calves to return several kilometres back to water, thus increasing the risk of predation or dehydration.

Fencing and water development is gathering pace on large properties in northern Australia. However it is very expensive and producers tell us that they need data on potential productivity increases to better articulate the benefits to owners and financiers. This pilot project will gather objective data and develop a calculator tool to reduce risk and increase producer confidence to invest in paddock development to lift breeder herd productivity.

Uneven use of the landscape has long been a concern for producers in the extensively managed beef production systems of northern Australia.

The Paddock Power project aims to answer three questions:

1.       How much impact is paddock area and distance to water having on production?

How? Use existing data and new paddock trials to measure:

  • Calf wastage
  • Breeder body condition
  • Re-conception rates
  • Mortality rates
  • Steer growth rates
  • How many kilograms of beef are produced in a paddock and how many could potentially be produced

2.       Where should we put new water and/or fencing infrastructure to get best bang for buck?

How? Use GPS tracking devices to measure:

  • How cattle utilise paddocks of different size and watered area
  • How far cattle are walking – with and without calves
  • How far from water calves are being born
  • How paddock usage patterns change through the year

3.       Which infrastructure development option/s will deliver the best return on investment?

How? Develop and promote the “Paddock Power Calculator”:

  • Compares development options identified by the producer
  • Works out return on investment and payback period on the basis of your specific cost base, land types and livestock productivity
  • Will result in increased confidence for you, your financiers and management team about how much you can afford to invest

Duration:

2019-2021

Contact:

Dr Dionne Walsh, email: dionne.walsh@nt.gov.au

Dr Kieren McCosker, email: kieren.mccosker@nt.gov.au

Project partners:

The project is funded by Meat and Livestock Australia and the Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Resources.