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Self-Herding for Landscapes and Profits update

15 November 2018

An MLA-funded trial is being conducted at the NT Government’s Victoria River Research Station (also known as Kidman Springs) to test whether self herding techniques can be used to establish new grazing patterns to achieve a form of rotational grazing that does not rely on permanent fencing.

Several months into the trial observations demonstrate that the techniques have been able to draw cattle into areas that have been traditionally underutilised, thereby reducing the grazing pressure on over-used patches.

Drawing on behavioural science, nutrition, physiology and ecology, self herding is a behaviour-based livestock management approach which provides managers with strategies and tools to positively influence grazing distribution. Self herding for the rangelands has been developed by Dr Dean Revell (Revell Science) and Bruce Maynard (Stress Free Stockmanship).

The Kidman Springs Self Herding Trial began in July when both staff and a group of heifers received training prior to the cattle being introduced into the trial paddock.

“A training period is an essential first step to give the cattle an opportunity to become familiar with the attractant station, food rewards and cues, or signals, prior to being moved to a new environment,” Bruce Maynard said.

To track the animals and observe their grazing behaviour, GPS collars were fitted to 10 heifers within the herd. In the first few weeks the GPS data showed that the heifers had a very strong attraction to the historically overgrazed areas of the paddock.

“We think the cattle were responding to existing landscape cues such as old cattle pads, shorter patches of previously grazed pastures and freshly graded tracks,” said Spud Thomas, Kidman Springs Station Manager. In response, the research team increased the frequency of the feed rewards at locations distant from

 Dionne Walsh, Department of Primary Industry and Resources Rangeland Program Manager, has overseen the generation of weekly ‘heat maps’ from the GPS collar data to track paddock usage patterns.

“Now that we are into week 16 of the trial, overall observations to date indicate that the techniques have been able to draw cattle into areas that they have traditionally not used very much,” Dionne said.

“This is supported by observations in the paddock with Spud and his team noticing a lot more utilisation of black spear grass.”

“It's been great to have conducted the trial on a remote cattle station. There were days when the team had planned an attractant station move but it had to be delayed due fire or other urgent Station activities,” said Mel McDonald from Territory NRM, who is coordinating communications for the trial and lives on an NT cattle station.

“The trial has demonstrated that the techniques are very flexible and can be integrated into normal cattle station management.”

The trial will conclude in mid-2019. Analysis at this time will focus on not only the paddock utilisation patterns and pasture utilisation levels but also observations in cattle behaviour, cattle productivity and costs including labour, vehicle and feed rewards. An economic analysis of the self herding technique employed in comparison to using fencing to achieve similar management objectives will be undertaken.

Attendees of the TNRM Conference in Darwin this week had the opportunity to hear directly from the Project Managers, how livestock producers, extension staff and others may utilise self herding techniques to achieve their land and animal management goals.