Quick fix grazing systems?

Bob Shepherd presents grazing land management research results at a recent field day.

In over thirty years working with graziers, Bob Shepherd is no stranger to people coming up with new and alternative methods of managing grazing land, for example, alternative grazing systems. Some may be worth considering, but many lack any scientific basis, or verification from research trials. In the best case scenario such alternative grazing systems may not make a significant difference, however in a worst case scenario, they can present a significant risk to the beef business.

A recent query from a grazier piqued Bob’s interest and he investigated the alternative farming system that was being considered.

“The principles that were mentioned (on the website) were sound, but the ‘recipe’ that contained the detail, was neither practical, scalable nor adoptable in an extensive grazing land environment,” said Bob. “So, it was concerning to think that this grazier was considering such an approach to managing his land.”

Bob checked out the ‘regional comparison ground cover’ for the property on the Forage Long Paddock website. This compares ground cover over a 21 year period on any property in Qld to the cover levels for the same land types within a 25 km radius.

“The result was astounding—the property has been heavily overgrazed for at least 20 years, resulting in pasture cover levels being below 50% at the end of the dry season in most years; and the land being in C condition (which means that the carrying capacity of the property is reduced by over 50% in comparison to the same property being in A condition).

Clearly the grazier was chasing a silver bullet to sort out a long-term overgrazing problem! Such silver bullets don’t exist.”

So he went back to the grazier to have an in-depth conversation about the value of adopting long term planning and using science-based grazing land management principles and practices.

This has led Bob to develop a simple ‘check-list’ for any grazier looking for the most effective ways to improve the management and condition of their grazing lands.

Using this check list, how many of the following points can you can tick-off?

  1. Know the long-term carrying capacity of your property by paddock.
  2. Stocking rates based on an annual forage budget.
  3. Wet season spelling of paddocks based on need.
  4. Strategic use of fire to control native woodland thickening, exotic woody weeds and manipulate pasture species composition.
  5. Adequate distribution of stock waters so that cattle don’t have to walk more than 2.5 km for a drink.
  6. Fencing to land type where feasible.
  7. Over-sowing with legumes that are adapted to specific soil types.
  8. Controlling weeds and feral animals, such as pigs and deer, based on a pest management plan.
  9. Left over grass stubble and good ground cover across your paddocks at the break of season (December).

“These are the practices that make a big difference to land condition. Coincidently, soil health, water infiltration and the quality of runoff water leaving your property will improve and come along for a free ride!

“If you can honestly tick-off on all of these, then by all means start looking at alternative grazing systems. But you will find the gains will be relatively small by comparison to following these tried and tested methods.”

Click here to find the contact details of your local beef industry extension officer.