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In many northern Australian regions and some temperate southern areas of Australia, native pastures are the predominate pasture used for livestock grazing. The aim of native pasture management is to achieve a level of production that can be maintained over decades - without the condition of the pasture deteriorating because palatable perennial grasses disappear, weeds increase or because the soil washes away.
To manage native pastures, producers need to:
- Understand how the grasses, trees, soils, grazing animals and climate affect each other.
- Follow some practical guidelines which are based on experience and research.
- Monitor changes (even if gradual) that may occur in the pastures.
- Adjust management accordingly.
Understanding the different phases of pasture growth helps to understand how grazing pressure can affect plants at different times during their life cycle.
Better grazing management is a combination of:
- Balancing pasture growth and use to improve land condition.
- Accurate assessment of pasture quality and quantity.
- Accurate assessment of animal demand for pasture.
- Optimisation of evenness of pasture use through water point distribution and paddock design.
- Managing stocking rates to reach production and land condition targets.
Fire can enhance land condition by:
- Controlling woody regrowth.
- Promoting desirable pasture species.
- Suppressing weeds and unpalatable species.
- Maintaining healthy pastures.
- Spreading grazing pressure across a paddock.
Prescribed burning is the deliberate ignition of vegetation and the subsequent control of fire spread to achieve a desired management objective. The fire regime describes the intensity, timing and frequency of burning.
A majority of grazing lands in northern Australia are woodlands - which play a critical role in the grazing land ecosystem. Management of the tree-grass balance can affect land condition in a positive or negative way. Trees and grass compete for moisture and nutrients for pasture growth. When used as browse species, trees may enhance the diet, but their presence may also affect pasture quality.
In addition, trees supply shade and shelter for livestock and habitat for native fauna and flora. Trees also carry out key ecosystem functions such as water and soil nutrient cycling and act as a sink for carbon. There is increasing recognition of the role woody vegetation plays in grazing land ecosystems, which has led to demand for woodland management that is both sustainable and compatible with broader environmental issues.