Stocking rate refers to the number of livestock on a paddock or a whole farm and is expressed as an indication of the number of a particular type of animal per unit area. The usual measure is dry sheep equivalents (DSE) per hectare (ha), however, this may also be expressed in terms of cattle per unit area, such as breeders (cattle) per ha or square kilometre.
Dry sheep equivalent and stocking density
A DSE is used as a method of standardising an animal unit and is the amount of feed required by a two year old, 50kg Merino wether to maintain its weight. Applying this principle, one 50kg dry goat is equivalent to one DSE and one yearling steer is equivalent to about 8 DSE. A lactating cow may be equivalent to as much as 25 DSE.
Stocking density (head/ha) refers to the number of stock per hectare on a grazing area or unit at any one time and is usually used to describe the number of stock per unit area in a high-density grazing situation.
Identifying and implementing stocking rates
Identifying the stocking rate and stocking density that an enterprise can sustain to maximise green pasture utilisation is important in increasing the profitability of an enterprise. The number of animals will depend on the nature of the enterprise (breeding and/or trading) but should be sufficient to ensure high utilisation of the pasture grown while maintaining the long-term sustainability of the pasture and the grazing system.
A grazing management approach based on predicted seasonal plant growth patterns can help achieve optimal stocking rate and pasture utilisation.
This should involve:
- grazing enough animals to fully utilise available pasture without depressing animal intake to below target requirements or grazing new plant growing points
- timing grazing to begin just before first leaf senescence (dying-off) occurs for desirable pasture species
- monitoring grazing and removing livestock before critical limits for minimum pasture mass, height and ground cover are reached
- accurately assessing the regrowth period before the next grazing occurs by monitoring pasture growth rates and the number of leaves per tiller.
The careful management of less intensively grazed land using the same approach leads to further gains in productivity.
The aim is for a sustainable production system that:
- operates at a stocking rate that optimises production
- remains weed-free
- has stable pastures
- has sufficient ground cover (generally greater than 70%) on flat land and low slopes to reduce run-off
- prevents erosion
- improves the quality of water entering waterways.
Fodder budgeting is the practice of matching feed supply and animal demand.
It aids calculation of short and long-term stocking rates and answers the following questions:
- How long will a paddock last with a particular number of livestock in it?
- How many livestock can I put into a paddock while maintaining a residual pasture cover?