Pasture utilisation is an on-going balance between pasture production and removal by animals and pasture decay.
High levels of utilisation will maximise animal production per hectare, but if utilisation is too high and ground cover declines too far, soil health will be damaged and nutrient recycling will be compromised.
Optimal pasture utilisation aims to convert the largest amount of pasture energy and nutrients into saleable product (meat), while leaving pasture residue in the best condition for rapid regrowth.
The amount of pasture utilised depends on livestock type and number, timing of lambing/calving, livestock purchases and sales and corrected for any bought-in feed.
Plan pasture utilisation to maximise animal and pasture growth and avoid wasting the pasture grown.
Pasture growth usually varies more than animal demand, requiring either flexibility in stock numbers, or the transfer of feed from one season to another as dry paddock feed or through fodder conservation.
Higher quality feed increases the options for finishing stock, reduces supplementation costs and results in more efficient feed conversion. The potential livestock growth per tonne of feed, or per hectare, is greater when livestock eat higher quality feed.
Manage pastures for maximum quality (and to a lesser extent, protein content), to meet your production system and growth rate objectives.
Remain flexible by matching different classes of stock to the pasture quality they need.
Converting pasture to product
Breeding programs aim to keep energy consumption to the minimum needed to achieve reproductive and lactation efficiency. Planned weight loss during non-critical periods is a common strategy used in successful breeding programs.
Finishing animals to meet market specifications in the shortest time possible lowers the proportion of energy used to support maintenance. Avoid weight loss of animals in finishing systems at all times - regaining such losses is costly and reduces meat eating quality.
The role of stocking rate in pasture utilisation
An increase in pasture utilisation can often be achieved by increasing the stocking rate (eg buying more stock, reducing culling rate or agisting stock).
As stocking rate increases, risk (gross margin variability) also increases and improved management skills (feed budgeting, pasture assessment and stock assessment) are needed to ensure the increases in stocking rate are sustainable.
The optimal stocking rate depends on grazing method, pasture composition, seasonal conditions and pasture growth rates, livestock type and class and target growth pathway.