The Rangeland Journal The Rangeland Journal Society
Rangeland ecology and management
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Sustainable grazing management for temporal and spatial variability in north Australian rangelands – a synthesis of the latest evidence and recommendations

Peter O’Reagain A E , Joe Scanlan B , Leigh Hunt C , Robyn Cowley D and Dionne Walsh D
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, PO Box 976, Charters Towers, Qld 4820, Australia.

B Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, PO Box 102, Toowoomba, Qld 4350, Australia.

C CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences, PMB 44, Winnellie, NT 0822, Australia.

D Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries, GPO Box 3000, Darwin, NT 0801, Australia.

E Corresponding author. Email: peter.o’reagain@daff.qld.gov.au

The Rangeland Journal 36(3) 223-232 https://doi.org/10.1071/RJ13110
Submitted: 5 November 2013  Accepted: 1 May 2014   Published: 10 June 2014

Abstract

Rainfall variability is a major challenge to sustainable grazing management in northern Australia, with management often complicated further by large, spatially-heterogeneous paddocks. This paper presents the latest grazing research and associated bio-economic modelling from northern Australia and assesses the extent to which current recommendations to manage for these issues are supported. Overall, stocking around the safe long-term carrying capacity will maintain land condition and maximise long-term profitability. However, stocking rates should be varied in a risk-averse manner as pasture availability varies between years. Periodic wet-season spelling is also essential to maintain pasture condition and allow recovery of overgrazed areas. Uneven grazing distributions can be partially managed through fencing, providing additional water-points and in some cases patch-burning, although the economics of infrastructure development are extremely context-dependent. Overall, complex multi-paddock grazing systems do not appear justified in northern Australia. Provided the key management principles outlined above are applied in an active, adaptive manner, acceptable economic and environmental outcomes will be achieved irrespective of the grazing system applied.

Additional keywords: grazing distribution, multi-paddock systems, pasture spelling, rainfall variability, simulation modelling, stocking rates.


References

Aisthorpe, J., Paton, C., and Timmers, P. (2004). ‘Stocktake: Balancing Supply and Demand.’ (Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries: Brisbane, Qld.)

Andrew, M. H. (1986). Use of fire for spelling monsoon tallgrass pasture grazed by cattle. Tropical Grasslands 20, 69–78.

Andrew, M. H. (1988). Grazing impacts in relation to livestock watering points. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 3, 336–339.
Grazing impacts in relation to livestock watering points.CrossRef | 1:STN:280:DC%2BC3M7gvFektg%3D%3D&md5=d84839afea43b32a75ba91fe42a02271CAS |

Ash, A. J., and Stafford Smith, D. M. (1996). Evaluating stocking rate impacts in rangelands: animals don’t practice what we preach. The Rangeland Journal 18, 216–243.
Evaluating stocking rate impacts in rangelands: animals don’t practice what we preach.CrossRef |

Ash, A. J., McIvor, J. G., Mott, J. J., and Andrew, M. H. (1997). Building grass castles: integrating ecology and management of Australia’s tropical tallgrass rangelands. The Rangeland Journal 19, 123–144.
Building grass castles: integrating ecology and management of Australia’s tropical tallgrass rangelands.CrossRef |

Ash, A. J., O’Reagain, P. J., McKeon, G., and Stafford Smith, D. M. (2000). Managing climate variability in grazing enterprises: a case study of Dalrymple Shire, north-eastern Australia. In: ‘Applications of Seasonal Climate Forecasting in Agricultural and Natural Ecosystems: the Australian Experience’. (Eds G. L. Hammer, N. Nicholls and C. Mitchell.) pp. 253–270. (Kluwer Academic Publishers: Dordrecht, The Netherlands.)

Ash, A. J., McIvor, J. G., Corfield, J., and Ksiksi, T. (2011). Grazing management in tropical savannas: utilization and rest strategies to manipulate rangeland condition. Rangeland Ecology and Management 64, 223–239.
Grazing management in tropical savannas: utilization and rest strategies to manipulate rangeland condition.CrossRef |

Braithwaite, I. D., and de Witte, K. W. (1999). A practical management template for improved decision making in North Australian beef cattle production. In: ‘Proceedings of the Australian Association of Cattle Veterinarians’. Hobart, Tas., 16–21 May 1999. pp. 250–261. (AACV: Brisbane, Qld.)

Briske, D. D., Derner, J. D., Brown, J. R., Fuhlendorf, S. D., Teague, W. R., Havstad, K. M., Gillen, R. L., Ash, A. J., and Willms, W. D. (2008). Rotational grazing on rangelands: reconciliation of perception and experimental evidence. Rangeland Ecology and Management 61, 3–17.
Rotational grazing on rangelands: reconciliation of perception and experimental evidence.CrossRef |

Burrows, W. H., Orr, D. M., Hendricksen, R. E., Rutherford, M. T., Myles, D. J., Back, P. V., and Gowen, R. (2010). Impacts of grazing management options on pasture and animal productivity in a Heteropogon contortus (black speargrass) pasture in central Queensland. 4. Animal production. Animal Production Science 50, 284–292.
Impacts of grazing management options on pasture and animal productivity in a Heteropogon contortus (black speargrass) pasture in central Queensland. 4. Animal production.CrossRef |

Buxton, R., and Stafford Smith, D. M. (1996). Managing drought in Australia’s rangelands: four weddings and a funeral. The Rangeland Journal 18, 292–308.
Managing drought in Australia’s rangelands: four weddings and a funeral.CrossRef |

Cowley, R. A., McCosker, K. D., MacDonald, R. N., and Hearnden, M. N. (2007). Optimal pasture utilisation rates for sustainable cattle production with a commercial Brahman herd in the Victoria River Downs region of the Northern Territory. In: ‘Proceedings of the Northern Beef Research Update Conference’. Townsville, Qld. (Eds B. Pattie and B. Restall.) pp. 34–44. (North Australia Beef Research Council: Park Ridge, Qld.)

Danckwerts, J. E., O’Reagain, P. J., and O’Connor, T. G. (1993). Range management in a changing environment: a southern African perspective. The Rangeland Journal 15, 133–144.
Range management in a changing environment: a southern African perspective.CrossRef |

Diaz-Solis, H., Kothmann, M. M., Grant, W. E., and De Luna-Villarreal, R. (2006). Application of a simple ecological sustainability simulator (SESS) as a management tool in the semi-arid rangelands of north-eastern Mexico. Agricultural Systems 88, 514–527.
Application of a simple ecological sustainability simulator (SESS) as a management tool in the semi-arid rangelands of north-eastern Mexico.CrossRef |

Dobes, L. (2012). Sir Sidney Kidman: Australia’s cattle king as a pioneer of adaptation to climatic uncertainty. The Rangeland Journal 34, 1–15.
Sir Sidney Kidman: Australia’s cattle king as a pioneer of adaptation to climatic uncertainty.CrossRef |

Dyer, R., Cafe, L., Cobiac, M. D., and Cowley, R. A. (2003). ‘Developing sustainable grazing management systems for the semi-arid tropics of the Northern Territory.’ Final Report NAP3.211. (Meat and Livestock Australia: North Sydney, NSW.)

Furnas, M. (2003). ‘Catchments and corals: terrestrial runoff to the Great Barrier Reef.’ (Australian Institute of Marine Science: Townsville, Qld.)

Gardener, C. J., McIvor, J. G., and Williams, J. (1990). Dry tropical rangelands: solving one problem and creating another. Ecological Society of Australia 16, 279–286.

Gillard, P. (1979). Improvement of native pastures with Townsville stylo in the dry tropics of sub-coastal northern Queensland. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture and Animal Husbandry 19, 325–336.
Improvement of native pastures with Townsville stylo in the dry tropics of sub-coastal northern Queensland.CrossRef |

Hall, T. J., McIvor, J. G., Hunt, L. J., and Quirk, M. (2011). Grazing systems – insights from studies in northern Australia. In: ‘Proceedings of the Northern Beef Research Update Conference’. Darwin, NT, 3–4 August 2011. pp. 53–58. (North Australia Beef Research Council: Park Ridge, Qld.)

Hunt, L. P. (2008). Safe pasture utilisation rates as a grazing management tool in extensively grazed tropical savannas of northern Australia. The Rangeland Journal 30, 305–315.
Safe pasture utilisation rates as a grazing management tool in extensively grazed tropical savannas of northern Australia.CrossRef |

Hunt, L. P., Petty, S., Cowley, R., Fisher, A., Ash, A. J., and MacDonald, N. (2007). Factors affecting the management of cattle grazing distribution in northern Australia: preliminary observations on the effect of paddock size and water points. The Rangeland Journal 29, 169–179.
Factors affecting the management of cattle grazing distribution in northern Australia: preliminary observations on the effect of paddock size and water points.CrossRef |

Hunt, L. P., Petty, S., Cowley, R., Fisher, A., White, A., MacDonald, N., Pryor, M., Ash, A. J., McCosker, K., McIvor, J. G., and MacLeod, N. D. (2013). ‘Sustainable Development of Victoria River District (VRD) Grazing Lands.’ Final Report, Project No. B.NBP.0375. (Meat and Livestock Australia: North Sydney, NSW.)

Hunt, L. P., McIvor, J. G., Grice, A. C., and Bray, S. G. (2014). Principles and guidelines for managing cattle grazing in the grazing lands of northern Australia: stocking rates, pasture resting, prescribed fire, paddock size and water points – a review. The Rangeland Journal 36, 105–119.
Principles and guidelines for managing cattle grazing in the grazing lands of northern Australia: stocking rates, pasture resting, prescribed fire, paddock size and water points – a review.CrossRef |

Landsberg, R. G., Ash, A. J., Shepherd, R. K., and McKeon, G. M. (1998). Learning from history to survive in the future: management evolution on Trafalgar Station, north-east Queensland. The Rangeland Journal 20, 104–118.
Learning from history to survive in the future: management evolution on Trafalgar Station, north-east Queensland.CrossRef |

MacLeod, N. D., and Ash, A. J. (2001). ‘Development of a Spreadsheet Herd Dynamics Model to Assess the Economic Value of Forecasts in Grazing Enterprises.’ Oceans to Farms Project Report No. 6. (CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems: Brisbane, Qld.)

McAllister, R. R. J. (2012). Livestock mobility in arid and semi-arid Australia: escaping variability in space and time. The Rangeland Journal 34, 139–147.
Livestock mobility in arid and semi-arid Australia: escaping variability in space and time.CrossRef |

McCosker, T. (2000). Cell grazing – the first 10 years in Australia. Tropical Grasslands 34, 207–218.

McCosker, T., McLean, D., and Holmes, P. (2010). ‘Northern Beef Situation Analysis.’ Final Report B.NBP.0518. (Meat and Livestock Australia: North Sydney, NSW.)

McIvor, J. G. (2001). Pasture management in semi-arid tropical woodlands: regeneration of degraded pastures protected from grazing. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 41, 487–496.
Pasture management in semi-arid tropical woodlands: regeneration of degraded pastures protected from grazing.CrossRef |

McIvor, J. G., and Gardener, C. J. (1995). Pasture management in semi-arid tropical woodlands: effects on herbage yields and botanical composition. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 35, 705–715.
Pasture management in semi-arid tropical woodlands: effects on herbage yields and botanical composition.CrossRef |

McKeon, G. M., Day, K. A., Howden, S. M., Mott, J. J., Orr, D. M., Scattini, W. J., and Weston, E. J. (1990). Northern Australian savannas: management for pastoral production. Journal of Biogeography 17, 355–372.
Northern Australian savannas: management for pastoral production.CrossRef |

McKeon, G. M., Howden, S. M., Abel, N. O., and King, J. M. (1993). Climate change – adapting tropical and subtropical grasslands. In: ‘Grasslands for Our World’. (Ed. M. J. Baker.) pp. 426–435. (SIR Publishing: Wellington, New Zealand.)

McKeon, G. M., Stone, G. S., Syktus, J. I., Carter, J. O., Flood, N. R., Ahrens, D. G., Bruget, D. N., Chilcott, C. R., Cobon, D. H., Cowley, R. A., Crimp, S. J., Fraser, G. W., Howden, S. M., Johnston, P. W., Ryan, J. G., Stokes, C. J., and Day, K. A. (2009). Climate change impacts on northern Australian rangeland livestock carrying capacity: a review of issues. The Rangeland Journal 31, 1–29.
Climate change impacts on northern Australian rangeland livestock carrying capacity: a review of issues.CrossRef |

Mott, J. J., Williams, J., Andrew, M. H., and Gillison, A. N. (1984). Austalian savanna ecosystems. In: ‘Ecology and Management of the World’s Savannas’. (Eds J. C. Tothill and J. J. Mott.) pp. 56–82. (Academy of Science: Canberra, ACT.)

O’Reagain, P. J., and Bushell, J. J. (2011). ‘The Wambiana Grazing Trial: Key Learnings for Sustainable and Profitable Management in a Variable Environment.’ (Queensland Government: Brisbane, Qld.)

O’Reagain, P. J., and Scanlan, J. C. (2013). Sustainable management for rangelands in a variable climate: evidence and insights from northern Australia. Animal 7, 68–78.
Sustainable management for rangelands in a variable climate: evidence and insights from northern Australia.CrossRef | 23031187PubMed |

O’Reagain, P. J., and Turner, J. R. (1992). An evaluation of the empirical basis for grazing management recommendations for rangeland in southern Africa. Journal of the Grassland Society of Southern Africa 9, 38–49.
An evaluation of the empirical basis for grazing management recommendations for rangeland in southern Africa.CrossRef |

O’Reagain, P. J., Bushell, J. J., Holloway, C. H., and Reid, A. (2009). Managing for rainfall variability: effect of grazing strategy on cattle production in a dry tropical savanna. Animal Production Science 49, 85–99.
Managing for rainfall variability: effect of grazing strategy on cattle production in a dry tropical savanna.CrossRef |

O’Reagain, P. J., Bushell, J. J., and Holmes, W. (2011). Managing for rainfall variability: long-term profitabilty of different grazing strategies in a north Australian tropical savanna. Animal Production Science 51, 210–224.
Managing for rainfall variability: long-term profitabilty of different grazing strategies in a north Australian tropical savanna.CrossRef |

Orr, D. M., and O’Reagain, P. J. (2011). Managing for rainfall variability: impacts of grazing strategies on perennial grass dynamics in a dry tropical savanna. The Rangeland Journal 33, 209–220.
Managing for rainfall variability: impacts of grazing strategies on perennial grass dynamics in a dry tropical savanna.CrossRef |

Orr, D. M., and Phelps, D. G. (2013). Impacts of grazing on an Astrebla (Mitchell grass) grassland in north-western Queensland between 1984 and 2010. 1. Pasture biomass and population dynamics of Astrebla. The Rangeland Journal 35, 1–15.
Impacts of grazing on an Astrebla (Mitchell grass) grassland in north-western Queensland between 1984 and 2010. 1. Pasture biomass and population dynamics of Astrebla.CrossRef |

Orr, D. M., Burrows, W. H., Hendricksen, R. E., Clem, R. L., Back, P. V., Rutherford, M. T., Myles, D. J., and Conway, M. J. (2010). Impacts of grazing management options on pasture and animal productivity in a Heteropogon contortus (black speargrass) pasture in central Queensland. 1. Pasture yield and composition. Crop & Pasture Science 61, 170–181.
Impacts of grazing management options on pasture and animal productivity in a Heteropogon contortus (black speargrass) pasture in central Queensland. 1. Pasture yield and composition.CrossRef |

Oxley, T. J. (2006). ‘Pastoral Industry Survey 2004: Katherine.’ (Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry, Fisheries and Mines: Darwin, NT.)

Roth, C. H. (2004). A framework relating soil surface condition to infiltration and sediment and nutrient mobilization in grazed rangelands of Northeastern Queensland, Australia. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 29, 1093–1104.
A framework relating soil surface condition to infiltration and sediment and nutrient mobilization in grazed rangelands of Northeastern Queensland, Australia.CrossRef |

Scanlan, J. C., and McIvor, J. G. (2010). ‘Enhancing Adoption of Best Practice Grazing Management in Northern Australia: Phase One – Integration and Scenario Testing.’ Final Report: Caring for our Country Project OG084273. (Meat and Livestock Australia: North Sydney, NSW.)

Scanlan, J. C., McKeon, G. M., Day, K. A., Mott, J. J., and Hinton, A. W. (1994). Estimating safe carrying capacities in extensive cattle grazing properties within tropical semi-arid woodlands of north-eastern Australia. The Rangeland Journal 16, 64–76.
Estimating safe carrying capacities in extensive cattle grazing properties within tropical semi-arid woodlands of north-eastern Australia.CrossRef |

Scanlan, J. C., MacLeod, N. D., Whish, G., Cowley, R. A., and Pahl, L. (2011). Modelling the impact of grazing rest on northern Australian rangelands. In: ‘Proceedings of the IX International Rangelands Congress: Diverse Rangelands for a Sustainable Society’. Rosario, Argentina, 2–8 April 2011. (Eds S. R. Feldman, G. E. Oliva and M. B. Sacido.) p. 619. (International Rangelands Congress: Rosario, Argentina.)

Scanlan, J. C., MacLeod, N. D., and O’Reagain, P. J. (2013). Scaling grazing trial results upwards to a whole property level – a case study using the Wambiana grazing trial. The Rangeland Journal 35, 193–200.
Scaling grazing trial results upwards to a whole property level – a case study using the Wambiana grazing trial.CrossRef |

Scott, K., James, H., Kearins, S., and Cowley, R. A. (2010). ‘Water Instead of Wire: Managing Grazing by Alternating Water-points on the Barkly Tablelands Northern Territory.’ Final Report PIRD Project S2004/NT01. (Meat and Livestock Australia: North Sydney, NSW.)

Stafford Smith, D. M., and Foran, B. D. (1993). Problems and opportunities for commercial animal production in the arid and semi-arid rangelands. In: ‘Grasslands for Our World’. (Ed. M. J. Baker.) pp. 30–37. (SIR Publishing: Wellington, New Zealand.)

Teague, W. R., Dowhower, S. L., Baker, S. A., Haile, N., DeLaune, P. B., and Conover, D. M. (2011). Grazing management impacts on vegetation, soil biota and soil chemical, physical and hydrological properties in tall grass prairie. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 141, 310–322.
Grazing management impacts on vegetation, soil biota and soil chemical, physical and hydrological properties in tall grass prairie.CrossRef | 1:CAS:528:DC%2BC3MXntlGnt7Y%3D&md5=aac7ce14d90e649404456fa4fff0e07dCAS |

Walsh, D., and Cowley, R. A. (2011). Looking back in time: can safe pasture utilisation rates be determined using commercial paddock data in the Northern Territory? The Rangeland Journal 33, 131–142.
Looking back in time: can safe pasture utilisation rates be determined using commercial paddock data in the Northern Territory?CrossRef |

Walsh, D., and Cowley, R. A. (2014). Best Bet Practices for Managing Grazing Lands in the Barkly Tableland Region of the Northern Territory. A Technical Guide to Options for Optimising Land Condition, Animal Production and Profitability. Northern Territory Government, Darwin, Australia. Technical Bulletin No. 350.

Wilson, A. D., and MacLeod, N. D. (1991). Overgrazing: present or absent? Journal of Range Management 44, 475–482.
Overgrazing: present or absent?CrossRef |



Export Citation Cited By (11)