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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 30(3)

Safe pasture utilisation rates as a grazing management tool in extensively grazed tropical savannas of northern Australia

L. P. Hunt

CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Tropical Ecosystems Research Centre, PMB 44, Winnellie, NT 0822, Australia. Email: Leigh.Hunt@csiro.au
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The concept of safe pasture utilisation rates is frequently promoted as a tool for use in setting livestock numbers in perennial grass pastures in northern Australia’s tropical savannas to achieve a grazing intensity that is ecologically and economically sustainable. However, recommended pasture utilisation rates have been defined and applied in several ways, and this has led to some confusion among managers, researchers and advisers about their appropriate use. In order to reduce this confusion, this paper reviews the ecological basis and use of safe pasture utilisation rates as a management tool, concentrating on two common ways (i.e. strategic and tactical) in which they are applied. The main objective of both approaches is to limit the intensity of grazing of perennial grasses during the growing season when they are most sensitive to defoliation. When used in a strategic way, safe pasture utilisation rates provide an indication of long-term safe stocking rates that will avoid pasture deterioration in most years. Alternatively, they are used in a tactical sense to adjust stocking rates to track forage production, usually on an annual basis. Using the tactical approach, stocking rates are set at the end of the growing season in order to use a ‘safe’ proportion of the standing forage available at that time during the subsequent 12 months. Thus, stocking rates for one growing season are based on the quantity of forage available at the end of the previous growing season. In areas with high year-to-year variability in pasture growth this may lead to overgrazing during the growing season. This paper concludes by suggesting several strategies to better manage pasture utilisation levels under a tactical management approach to ensure that palatable perennial grass populations persist in the long term. A call is also made for researchers and land management advisers to be clear in the way recommended safe pasture utilisation rates are defined and intended to be used.

Keywords: defoliation, grazing intensity, perennial grasses, rangelands, stocking rates.

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