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Many of the plant communities and pasture species that make up Australia's native pastures have evolved in the presence and under the influence of fire. This is particularly the case in Northern Australia.
Fire is a useful management tool in pastoral regions and is used strategically for several reasons.
Wildfire prevention and control
Strategic and controlled burns are used to reduce the risk of wildfires by breaking up the landscape and reducing fuel loads. Controlled burns are undertaken at the end of the wet season or as back burning operations to head off wildfires.
Grazing distribution and pasture quality
Livestock are attracted to the new native pasture growth that comes after fire. Through burning areas under-utilised by livestock or affected by patch grazing, producers can improve grazing distribution and pasture utilisation.
Fire also benefits production by removing rank, poor quality feed and promoting nutritious regrowth which is highly digestible and produces increased weight gain.
Pasture composition and weed control
Fire can be used to modify pasture composition by timing burns to coincide with critical phases in a target species growth cycle, such as at seeding, or as part of an integrated approach to a broader weed control program. More palatable native pasture species benefit from fire because livestock are less selective when grazing regrowth.
Managing native weeds and shrubs
Most woody trees and shrubs are sensitive to fire when less than two metres tall. In the absence of fire many of these woody species will increase in number, resulting in reduced pasture production, reduced carrying capacity and increased mustering costs.
Carefully managed strategic burns can reduce woody plant populations and promote pasture growth.
Controlled burns need to be carefully planned so that the desired outcome is achieved without adversely affecting native pastures, land condition or production. The following process can help deliver the best results:
- Start with a goal.
- Analyse the current situation for each paddock.
- Design a strategy for the desired fire regime for each paddock.
- Ensure the grazing strategy is consistent with the fire strategy.
- Ensure the fuel load is sufficient for the desired result.
- Plan grazing to allow post-fire pasture recovery that improves or maintains land condition.