MANY breeder paddocks in northern Australia are too big and under-watered to achieve optimum productivity.
In the Barkly Tableland region, for example, average paddock area is 218sq km (21,800ha) and some are more than 1000sq km.
These large, poorly watered paddocks impact on reproduction and profitability: there’s over-and under-utilised feed (depending on distance from water), incomplete musters and limited opportunities to implement herd segregation, controlled mating or tactical pasture management.
Walking long distances out to feed erodes liveweight gain and body condition. In turn, the negative impact of poor body condition on re-conception and calf survival rates further reduces productivity.
Some producers speculate that high rates of calf wastage (in some cases greater than 20pc) in large poorly-watered paddocks may be caused by cows leaving newborn calves to return several kilometres back to water, increasing the risk of predation or dehydration.
Fencing and water development is gathering pace on large properties in northern Australia. However, it is very expensive and producers say they need data on potential productivity increases to better articulate the benefits to owners and financiers.
This pilot project, running for three years to 2021, is gathering objective data and developing a calculator tool to reduce risk and increase producer confidence to invest in paddock development to lift breeder herd productivity.
The Paddock Power project aims to answer three questions:
How much impact is paddock area and distance to water having on production?
The project will use existing data and new paddock trials to measure:
- Calf wastage
- Breeder body condition
- Re-conception rates
- Mortality rates
- Steer growth rates
- How many kilograms of beef are produced in a paddock and how many could potentially be produced
Where should new waters and/or fencing infrastructure be put to get best bang for buck?
GPS tracking devices are being used to measure:
- How cattle utilise paddocks of different size and watered area
- How far cattle are walking – with and without calves
- How far from water calves are being born
- How paddock usage patterns change through the year
Which infrastructure development options will deliver the best return on investment?
The ‘Paddock Power Calculator’ is being developed, to allow producers to compare development options they identify; work out return on investment and payback period on the basis of a producer’s specific cost base, land types and livestock productivity. This will result in increased confidence for the producer, their financiers and management team about how much they can afford to invest in intensification in waters and fencing.