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Balancing animal, pasture and environmental outcomes in grazing management experiments

D. L. Michalk A B C , W. B. Badgery A B and D. R. Kemp B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A NSW Department of Primary Industries, Orange Agricultural Institute, 1447 Forest Road, Orange, NSW 2800, Australia.

B Charles Sturt University, Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, Orange, NSW 2800, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email: dm.hainan@gmail.com

Animal Production Science 57(9) 1775-1784 https://doi.org/10.1071/AN16132
Submitted: 2 March 2016  Accepted: 5 December 2016   Published: 13 June 2017

Abstract

About 60% of the gross value of Australia’s agriculture (AU$49 billion) is produced from the 85 million ha of temperate grasslands of southern Australia. A large part of this production comes from grazing livestock in the high-rainfall zone (HRZ) where 40% of the area has been retained as native and naturalised pastures, located in variable landscapes. These native pastures have seen a decline in productivity and increasing environmental problems, such as erosion, due to a loss of productive perennial species over recent decades. Grazing management systems have been advocated to not only balance the quality and quantity of forage with the nutritional demands of grazing animals, but also to manage the degradation caused by grazing. There has been an evolution of grazing management research through national projects from Temperate Pasture Sustainability Key Program to Sustainable Grazing Systems and then EverGraze, which has shifted from a focus on small plots and fixed stocking rates, to large-plot and farmlet experiments that include landscape variability and flexible grazing systems that more closely resemble commercial practice. These experiments generate reliable plant and animal response data that can be used to validate system models needed to assess the spatial and temporal challenges of grassland management. The present paper introduces the research conducted at the Orange proof site as part of the national EverGraze program. The research investigated the interactions between landscape variability and grazing method (1-, 4- and 20-paddock grazing management treatments) with flexible stocking rates. The following three key questions were addressed: (1) does increasing the number of paddocks and implementing rotational grazing result in a higher stocking rate, higher per hectare production and better economic outcomes; (2) which is the most appropriate combination of grazing method and stocking rate to achieve a higher and more stable perennial component to improve production and environmental benefits in different parts of the landscape; and (3) can landscape variability be identified, mapped and effectively managed on HRZ native grassland properties? This special edition of Animal Production Science answers these questions and provides recommendations for managing HRZ native pastures.

Additional keywords: native pastures, pasture composition, pasture production.


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