Flexible stocking rates key to profitability
25 September 2015
The Wambiana grazing trial has a clear message for northern pastoralists – when it comes to stocking rates, flexibility is the key to profitable and sustainable management.
The 18-year-long, MLA-funded trial, conducted on the Lyons cattle property ‘Wambiana’, 70km south of Charters Towers, was established to find out which stocking rate and pasture management strategies were most profitable and sustainable long term.
According to project leader Dr Peter O’Reagain, flexible stocking rates around long-term carrying capacities with wet season spelling was the stand-out strategy for commercial beef operations.
Key learnings presented at a recent field day for producers were:
- Heavy stocking rates, at about twice the long term carrying capacity, were more profitable initially in the first few good seasons of the project but made the least profit and caused pasture degradation in the long term.
- After 18 years the density of palatable, perennial and productive grasses such as desert bluegrass, black speargrass and Queensland bluegrass in the high stocking rate paddocks were three to four times less than in paddocks stocked ‘moderately’ (about the long term carrying capacity).
- Heavily stocked paddocks’ resilience to drought was severely diminished making them vulnerable to even the mildest dry year.
- Moderate stocking rates generated far more profit in the longer term and, after 18 years, had by far the best pasture condition underpinning this profitability.
- Variable stocking, where stocking rates were adjusted up or down based on pasture availability at the end of the wet season (May), made as much profit as moderate stocking but proved more risky and pasture condition was slightly poorer.
- Wet season spelling is also important to maintain and improve pasture condition, however, the response is sometimes slow.
- The optimal strategy is flexible stocking around long term carrying capacity using forage budgeting to adjust stock numbers as conditions change between years. Wet season spelling is also important.
- Fire should be used judiciously to control woodland thickening. This and other similar strategies are currently being tested at the Wambiana trial.
To accurately assess a property’s long term carrying capacity, Peter recommends completing the MLA EDGE Network’s Grazing Land Management course.
The Stocktake Plus program also provides training as well as an app for calculating forage budgets.
Contact Dr Peter O’Reagain T: 07-47615164 E: Peter.O'Reagain@daf.qld.gov.au
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