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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 36(2)

A comparison of stocking methods for beef production in northern Australia: pasture and soil surface condition responses

Trevor J. Hall A F , John G. McIvor B , David J. Reid C , Paul Jones D , Neil D. MacLeod B , Cam K. McDonald B and David R. Smith E

A Agri-Science Queensland, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, PO Box 102, Toowoomba, Qld 4350, Australia.
B CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences, GPO Box 2583, Brisbane, Qld 4001, Australia.
C Agri-Science Queensland, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, PO Box 6014, Red Hill, Rockhampton, Qld 4701, Australia.
D Agri-Science Queensland, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Locked Mail Bag 6, Emerald, Qld 4720, Australia.
E Agri-Science Queensland, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, PO Box 976, Charters Towers, Qld 4820, Australia.
F Corresponding author. Email: trevor.hall@daff.qld.gov.au

The Rangeland Journal 36(2) 161-174 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/RJ13075
Submitted: 20 July 2013  Accepted: 11 February 2014   Published: 3 April 2014


 
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Abstract

Historical stocking methods of continuous, season-long grazing of pastures with little account of growing conditions have caused some degradation within grazed landscapes in northern Australia. Alternative stocking methods have been implemented to address this degradation and raise the productivity and profitability of the principal livestock, cattle. Because information comparing stocking methods is limited, an evaluation was undertaken to quantify the effects of stocking methods on pastures, soils and grazing capacity. The approach was to monitor existing stocking methods on nine commercial beef properties in north and south Queensland. Environments included native and exotic pastures and eucalypt (lighter soil) and brigalow (heavier soil) land types. Breeding and growing cattle were grazed under each method. The owners/managers, formally trained in pasture and grazing management, made all management decisions affecting the study sites. Three stocking methods were compared: continuous (with rest), extensive rotation and intensive rotation (commonly referred to as ‘cell grazing’). There were two or three stocking methods examined on each property: in total 21 methods (seven continuous, six extensive rotations and eight intensive rotations) were monitored over 74 paddocks, between 2006 and 2009. Pasture and soil surface measurements were made in the autumns of 2006, 2007 and 2009, while the paddock grazing was analysed from property records for the period from 2006 to 2009. The first 2 years had drought conditions (rainfall average 3.4 decile) but were followed by 2 years of above-average rainfall. There were no consistent differences between stocking methods across all sites over the 4 years for herbage mass, plant species composition, total and litter cover, or landscape function analysis (LFA) indices. There were large responses to rainfall in the last 2 years with mean herbage mass in the autumn increasing from 1970 kg DM ha–1 in 2006–07 to 3830 kg DM ha–1 in 2009. Over the same period, ground and litter cover and LFA indices increased. Across all sites and 4 years, mean grazing capacity was similar for the three stocking methods. There were, however, significant differences in grazing capacity between stocking methods at four sites but these differences were not consistent between stocking methods or sites. Both the continuous and intensive rotation methods supported the highest average annual grazing capacity at different sites. The results suggest that cattle producers can obtain similar ecological responses and carry similar numbers of livestock under any of the three stocking methods.

Additional keywords: cell grazing, continuous grazing, grazing methods, grazing systems, rotational grazing.


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