In an erratic climate with variable rainfall, stocking rate is the most important management factor affecting pasture condition, animal production and business profits.
Results from the Wambiana grazing trial indicate that moderate stocking would outperform heavy stocking for an average north Queensland property of 20,000ha by more than $1 million in income over 13 years.
The trial based on the Lyons family’s Charters Towers property, Wambiana, from 1998 to 2011 disproves that heavy stocking rates are needed to maximise returns in northern Australia.
A media released issued by Meat and Livestock Australia last Friday details the results.
Run by the Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation (DEEDI) and co-funded by Meat and Livestock Australia, the trial investigated the effects of five grazing strategies across widely variable rainfall years on beef cattle production, economic performance and pasture condition.
Heavy stocking at 0:25AE/ha (where 1AE represents a 450kg steer) was the least profitable grazing strategy, degrading pastures to ‘C’ land condition and lowering both liveweight gains and carcase values.
After 14 years, accumulated gross margin was lowest under heavy stocking and drought feeding was also required in dry years.
The most profitable strategy was moderate stocking at the long-term carrying capacity of 0:125AE/ha. It achieved the highest individual liveweight gain of 116kg/year (averaged over 13 years) and higher carcase values.
Project leader and DEEDI principal scientist, Dr Peter O’Reagain, said the optimal grazing strategy for northern beef producers was flexible stocking around long-term carrying capacity, with stocking rates adjusted proactively according to available pasture.
Peter said appropriate stocking rates could be calculated using a forage budgeting program, such as Stocktake.
“This should avoid overgrazing in dry years, but allow managers to take advantage of good rainfall years,” he said.
DEEDI’s John Bushell said increasing stock numbers in good years could boost profits and would not adversely affect pasture condition, provided that numbers were expanded cautiously and did not exceed carrying capacity limits.
He said it was critical that producers cut numbers rapidly when conditions deteriorated, to avoid economic loss and long-term pasture degradation.
“The Wambiana trial clearly showed that high pasture utilisation levels going into a drought adversely affected pasture condition and productivity for up to eight years after,” John said.
To read the report documenting the key learnings from the Wambiana Grazing Trial click here
To read a case study from MLA on how Central Western Qld graziers David and Genevieve Counsell are managing stock rates in a variable climate, click here
Source: Meat and Livestock Australia