Tanisha Shields, Western Local Land Services, Balranald NSW. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Poor or declining pasture productivity is an ongoing challenge for pastoral producers. Seasonal distribution of rainfall strongly influences the growth and composition of pastures (Eldridge and Grant, 2004). There was a significant decline in vegetation cover and pasture yield recorded in the western Riverina rangelands from 1990 to 2003 (Eldridge and Grant, 2004). Along with this decline in yield, the proportion of key perennial species in the pasture mix also declined to less than 40% of that recorded in 1990. Anecdotally, these trends have been observed to have continued.
Pasture productivity and the complexity of management decisions surrounding native pastures influences all land managers in the pastoral region. Each day a pastoral producer is making a decision relating to managing pastures, be that to graze, rest, control unmanaged grazing pressure or install a new watering point or fence line.
Monitoring, and using the results of monitoring to guide decision making, is a key component of a successful management objective in rangelands. Having the ability to track response to management practices guides tactical and strategic decision making in both the short and long term.
Assisting producers facing these challenges
Improving Tactical Decision Making (ITDM) is non-prescriptive (no timetable or grazing schedules) and includes a few basic principles, combined with graziers’ knowledge of their own property to allow the formulation of a grazing management program that will address issues of pasture productivity and sustainability in a local context. Rangelands pastures have a diverse mix of species and a highly variable climate. The outcomes of a grazing management decision are influenced by these local conditions. It is essential to understand that decisions can have long-term consequences on the pasture base and species diversity.
ITDM follows 4 key steps, developed from the Glove Box Guide to Tactical Grazing Management (Figure 1):
- Set an objective – The objective of a grazing management program could be to either maintain the current state of the pasture or to improve the pasture in a specific way. This will change as seasonal variation provides opportunities and challenges.
- Determine strategies – Management strategies are used to ensure pastures are conditioned to respond well to favourable climatic events and to survive through dry times.
- Implementing the strategy on a day-to-day basis as seasonal opportunities allow or dictate – this includes making decisions such as adjusting stocking rate, in response to monitoring important factors to ensure a timely response can be achieved.
- Monitor – assess the variables that guide tactical decision making, compare current position with target and history, assess whether the system is working.
Figure 1. Overview of the Improving Tactical Decision Making Program
The pilot group of producers in the Oxley area of South Western NSW are working through a series of five coaching sessions to increase their skills in identifying key species and managing their pastures to promote increased quality and quantity on their property, which in turn increases productivity in rangeland livestock businesses. Examples of the vegetation in this area are shown below (Photo 1 and 2).
Photo 1. A bladder saltbush pasture located at Oxley NSW, photo taken in January 2021. Other species present include various poverty bushes.
Photo 2. A bladder saltbush pasture in the Booligal area NSW, photo taken in October 2020.
Key practices which are being implemented by the pilot group include:
- Routine feed testing and identifying quality of key pasture species at different times of year
- Grazing to target key species at specific times in the production cycle
- Testing methods to identify pasture quantity in rangeland pastures
- Identifying and targeting rest and recovery of pastures based on species biology
- Understanding how grazing influences plants at different stages of growth
- Applying “modern” grazing principles in a pastoral setting
- Linking remote sensing technology with ground measurements to inform decision making.
In the field
Participants in the Improving Tactical Decision Making program are changing the way they manage their livestock and feedbase through targeted grazing strategies. They are building their capacity to assess a pasture and identify what the productive species are in the landscape, and subsequently how to manipulate grazing management to increase the prevalence of these valuable plants in the pasture. Livestock condition is being identified through building skills in condition scoring, to better understand which animals are in appropriate condition score to achieve production goals and how to allocate feed to these animals to maximise production.
The group has been monitoring in a target paddock on their property every 2 months, recording information such as management objective, grazing strategies, ground cover, species diversity, nutritive value of the pastures and unmanaged grazing pressure. Remote sensing technology has also been introduced as a method of collecting data to guide management decisions. The group has been investigating the impacts of grazing key species at different times of year and how this influences pasture and livestock production.
References and further reading
Eldridge, D.J. and Grant, R. (2004). Rangeland change in the western Riverina saltbush range-type. (NSW Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources, Sydney). 7pp.
Campbell, T. and Hacker, R., compilers (2000). The Glove Box Guide to Tactical Grazing Management for the semi-arid woodlands. (NSW Agriculture, Dubbo). 67 pp. Available to download from this link on the NSW DPI website.
Meat and Livestock Australia’s MeatUp Forum for the Rangelands. The list of presentations is available at https://www.mla.com.au/extension-training-and-tools/meatup/rangelands/meatup-forum-rangelands/
Editor’s Note: This paper was presented at the NRM in the Rangelands Conference in Longreach and was volunteered to be included in this issue of the Range Management Newsletter.