Wet season spell when the seasons are with you

A healthy paddock with tall pasture plants after a wet season spell
Wet season spelling allows desirable species to set seed before being grazed, positively contributing to land.

Key messages

  • Wet season spelling improves land condition.
  • If not removing grazing animals out of the system, be aware of the impact they may have on the ‘sacrificed paddocks’ while the other paddock is being spelled.
  • Keep cattle out until the preferred pastures have set seed.
  • Conduct a forage budget at the end of the growing season to ensure your good work doesn’t get undone.

Do you have plans to spell your pastures? The ability of pastures to recover from grazing is influenced by the amount of leaf left and the strength of the root system. Continuous grazing of pastures removes the leaf and reduces the ability of the plant to capture sunlight energy, further weakening the root structure. If you constantly graze, you eventually remove the preferred species from the system and reduce the condition of the land.

The best time to spell pastures is after effective rainfall during the wet season, when pastures are actively growing and have an opportunity to store energy back into the roots. Wet season spelling is a great way to encourage preferred 3P (productive, perennial and palatable) species into your paddocks. Implementing spelling requires flexibility, if the rain is not there then the opportunity to spell might not be there. You need to take the chance to spell when the seasons are with you.

Which paddocks do you spell?

As you drive around a place you usually have a rough idea of which paddocks have been pushed harder than others. Having a conversation about spelling during a business / family meeting to discuss the specific paddock options can be beneficial. Reality is to implement a spell without destocking, other paddocks may be ‘sacrificed’. Consider potential implications of cattle movements on the rest of the property.

A tool available that might assist with choosing which paddocks to spell is the FORAGE Ground Cover report available on the Long Paddock website. The Ground Cover reports track cover since the 1990’s and compare how you track to similar land types within your immediate district. Areas with a consistent downward trend over 3-4 years are good candidates for benefiting from a spell. Although longer term, the option of splitting up bigger paddocks can be advantageous to allow for cattle rotation and better utilisation of country. However, adding wire and additional water points are an expense that need to be considered in infrastructure planning.

What is a successful spell?

For maximum results, spell during periods of active pasture growth i.e. early wet season, for at least 6–8 weeks. As a general rule, once seed has set and is starting to fall cattle can go back onto spelled pastures. However, keep an eye on your country as this will vary with the season. For severely run-down pasture, spelling for the whole wet season and successive wet seasons is needed to improve land in poor condition.

Northern grazing systems are built on grazing extensive areas of native perennial pasture. It’s important to understand your carrying capacity and carefully assess your pasture at the end of the growing season. Will the feed available run the current number of cattle until the end of the season? Wet season spelling although important for the long-term health of pastures, will never make up for consistent overstocking.

To learn more there is a Wet Season Spelling video available featuring Charters Towers grazier Ben Bennetto and Senior Extension Officer Karl McKellar.

More information

Wet season spelling, the theory behind the practice →

Case study: Blanncourt Station, Georgetown →