Making More from Sheep Australian Wool Innovation Limited Meat & Livestock Australia
MODULE 12: Efficient Pastoral Production
Procedure 12.7
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Background
information

This procedure outlines some of the important principles which you need to understand in order to optimise your business performance from the rainfall that you receive. It covers both Natural Resource Management (NRM), livestock production and business related topics, each important to the ongoing sustainability of your business and property.

This procedure brings together much of the information and must-dos outlined in the previous procedures, to ensure that you have plans in place to tackle what nature throws at you, and that you are in the best possible position to deal with all situations.

At a Glance
pt Plan for good seasons and be prepared to alter plans when seasons are poorer
pt Consider what the trigger points are for your situation and location, and use these as tools for decision making
pt Know your options for different seasonal scenarios, make decisions in a timely manner, avoiding hasty decision making
pt Measure performance of your business and in the context of seasonal conditions
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Key decisions, critical actions and benchmarks

Rainfall is the key driver of production in all grazing management systems. To ensure that the rain that falls on a property is efficiently converted into sufficient quantity and quality of feed, the pastoral production system and business which operates on it must be in a ‘rain ready’ state. This requires that when the rain falls on the property, it soaks into the soil and the property and business are each in a state whereby they capture productivity that the rainfall will provide.

Rain stimulates growth of palatable and productive ephemeral, annual and perennial species. This plant growth provides energy, protein and key elements to achieve favorable levels of livestock production.

In this context, the level of production from the property could be measured based on both land area and rainfall received by considering:

  • DSE per hectare per 100mm of effective rainfall
  • Kg of meat (or wool) produced per hectare per 100mm of effective rainfall
  • Other measures such as productivity per DSE, and this could be in $/DSE, or GM/DSE, or Profit/DSE
  • Other measures relating to NRM outcomes, such as groundcover at key dates.

These performance indicators can then be measured and monitored to assess annual production efficiency. Using rainfall as part of a performance indicator can add valuable context to poor seasons, by allowing you to measure performance in below average rainfall seasons, in the context of rainfall received.

There are four must must-dos in this procedure:

  • Be rain ready for your business and property
  • Know your options – in good seasons
  • Know your options – in poor seasons
  • Monitor your business.

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Be ‘rain ready’ for your business and property

Rain ready property

Landscape function provides a measure of the landscape’s capacity to capture rainfall and nutrients that directly contribute to plant growth and productivity in the system. Landscape function provides an assessment of landscape condition and resilience.

A key step in ensuring you are ‘rain ready’ is to ensure your pasture is conditioned in a way to manage the next rain event, and just as importantly, to manage through dry times.

Maintaining landscape function ensures pastures are ready to respond to the next rain event. Conditioning pastures to respond to rainfall involves strategies such as maintaining adequate cover levels and managing to maintain perennial in the system. Ground cover assists rainfall infiltration and efficient nutrient cycling. By managing the utilisation of perennial grasses to the recommended rates, you are maintaining landscape function, allowing responsiveness and also keeping a mix of perennials in your pastures. Perennial grasses are important for maximising sheep production and rain‑use efficiency. They respond (produce green leaf) to summer storms and survive between infrequent showers.

Similar to landscape function, the land condition gateway of the Grazing Land Management system, which has been developed for Northern pastoral areas, considers the capacity of the land to respond to rain and produce useful forage and is a measure of how well the grazing ecosystem is functioning; this is essentially the landscape function.

There are three components to consider in determining the level of functionality of the land system.

Soil condition

This is an assessment of the soil’s ability to:

  • Absorb and store rainfall
  • Store and cycle nutrients
  • Provide suitable conditions for seed germination
  • Resist erosion.

Pasture condition

This is an assessment of the feedbase to:

  • Capture and store solar energy and produce palatable green leaf
  • Use rainfall efficiently
  • Contribute to soil stability
  • Cycle nutrients.

Woodland condition

This is an assessment of the woodland to:

  • Grow pasture
  • Cycle nutrients
  • Regulate groundwater.

Minimise overgrazing and decline in landscape function

Overgrazing can negatively impact the rain readiness of your property. Excessive populations of domestic, feral and native grazing animals combined with dry conditions when feed levels are reduced have been primary contributors to the degradation of areas in the rangelands. From a pasture condition perspective, invasive native scrub, applicable in areas that are prone to scrub encroachment, are a non-preferred ‘increaser’ species that, unless well managed, will dominate the system and reduce its ability to convert water and nutrients into useful feed (palatable green leaf) and consequently animal production.

A decline in landscape function often results in poor responses following rain events.

Signposts Signposts

View

Grazing Land Management, MLA http://www.mla.com.au/News-and-resources/Publication-details?pubid=2914

Landscape Function Analysis, http://www.csiro.au/Organisation-Structure/Divisions/Ecosystem-Sciences/EcosystemFunctionAnalysis.aspx

Betting on Rain http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/69634/betting-on-rain-1.pdf

Informing the decisions of pastoral woolgrowers for country and profit, Land, Water and Wool http://www.wool.com/globalassets/start/on-farm-research-and-development/production-systems-eco/environment/land/lww_pastoral_informing-decisions-of-pastoral-woolgrowers.pdf

Wool production in the pastoral country of inland, Land,Water and Wool, http://www.wool.com/globalassets/start/on-farm-research-and-development/production-systems-eco/environment/land/lww_pastoral_insights-case-studies.pdf


Know your options – in good seasons

“Make hay while the sun shines” – these conditions don’t last forever!

Good seasons never seem to happen frequently enough, according to many pastoralists in Australia. How to capitalise on the good seasons takes careful planning, adaptive management, and risk management (and a bit of luck in some cases!).

There are many rules of thumb regarding the impact of the ‘good seasons’ on agricultural businesses across Australia, but importantly, the reality of the good season is that you need to be ready to take the opportunity to benefit from the seasonal conditions, which will help provide the capacity to buffer you against the poor seasons.

The inherent knowledge that you have developed, as to how many animals you can comfortably carry on your property in a good season, is something which you will develop through experience of good and dry times.

  • Have a plan as to how to utilise the extra feed which grows in good seasons
  • Know your key dates, trigger points and monitor your total grazing pressure
  • State your risks and analyse risk before making any decisions.

Use the tools from other procedures to understand your feed resource and what its capacity is in good years. Use this information to develop a strategy as to what options you will take to capitalise on the years when there is more feed to safely utilise than your stock can consume. Some options are:

  • Trading
  • Agistment
  • Marketing to different specifications, e.g. finished stock rather than store stock
  • Carrying feed over
  • Allowing a portion of your property to rest for longer periods – to repair any areas which need improvement
  • Accelerated lambing
  • Keeping older stock for longer
  • Joining ewe lambs.

There are others, no doubt, and you will have access to local information which will best fit your operation.

Be sure to utilise all available sources of information for devising your strategies and improving the number of options you have available to you.

Signposts Signposts

View

AWI’s Planning for profit addresses drought recovery strategies, from pasture recovery to accelerated lambing, and flock structure changes. http://www.wool.com/on-farm-research-and-development/sheep-health-welfare-and-productivity/sheep-nutrition/awi-drought-resources/


Include your family in your business planning

Know your options – in poor seasons

Getting through a poor season, or run of poor seasons, requires patience, resilience, and a significant amount of planning.

Similar to knowing options for good seasons, and equally as importantly, knowing what options you have available to you and what trigger points exist will enable you to make decisions based on sound knowledge and careful planning, rather than snap decisions, based on emotion or panic. Some of the strategies are to be considered during poor seasons are:

  • Feed or sell
  • When to sell
  • What sheep to sell
  • Cost of feeding
  • Confinement feeding
  • A mob which are always the first to go.

By having set your own key dates and trigger points, whereby you assess the current conditions, outlook, and other factors, including market, risk, resources available to the business, you can strategically work through the issues in a fashion that allows you to be in control of the situation.

Trigger points are calendar dates beyond which decisions to buy or sell livestock should not be delayed. They can be identified by summarising long term simulated pasture growth record to show when the prospects for pasture growth for the next three months are highest or lowest and the variability in growth from year to year.

Revisiting and adjusting these trigger points are an important part of the process of managing poor seasons, and indeed emerging in a resilient state, physically, mentally and financially.

Keep revisiting your plans and adjusting them, but don’t put off the inevitable.

Early decisions are often the ones made with the least amount of emotion, as they are not forced decisions.

Managing your pastures and land condition appropriately will help your country recover faster. It will be more ‘rain ready’. Landscape function remains important during dry times, as maintaining function will assist with recovery.

Tool 12.20 Recognise and minimise decline in landscape function.


Include your family in your business planning

Example of how to use the pasture growth profiles and critical percentile values to determine trigger points beyond which decisions that depend of future growth should not be delayed. Note the ‘primer’ point, some time before the trigger point, when preparation for a decision and consideration of options should start.

Signposts Signposts

Read

AWI drought pages have a range of relevant publications, plus links to other organisations relevant to managing during a drought, as well as recovering after rains arrive.

Which sheep do I keep? (AWI) http://www.wool.com/globalassets/start/on-farm-research-and-development/sheep-health-welfare-and-productivity/sheep-nutrition/awi-drought-resources/2013_which_sheep_do__i_keep_lr1.pdf

Managing fodder prices for droughts http://www.wool.com/globalassets/start/on-farm-research-and-development/sheep-health-welfare-and-productivity/sheep-nutrition/awi-drought-resources/gd0389_managing-fodder-prices-for-droughts-lr.pdf

Managing sheep in droughtlots http://www.wool.com/globalassets/start/on-farm-research-and-development/sheep-health-welfare-and-productivity/sheep-nutrition/awi-drought-resources/gd0458_managing-sheep-in-droughtlots.pdf

MLA has a number of relevant resources available relating to poor seasons, or droughts:

http://www.mla.com.au/Livestock-production/Feeding-finishing-and-nutrition/Drought-feeding

http://www.mla.com.au/livestock-production/environmental-management/drought-and-disaster-management

Visit

State Department of Primary Industries websites.

Monitor your business

Keeping a watchful eye on the performance of your property and business, will ensure that you have a strong handle on the exact position of your business, plus you can accurately forecast the next year’s performance under best, average and worst case scenarios.

Monitoring of your property’s assets and performance are as important as monitoring business performance and assets.

NRM Monitoring

There are a number of monitoring systems available for monitoring land condition; refer to procedure 5.4 Monitor the System. One of these monitoring systems, The ABCD Land Condition Guide (QDPIF, 2006) provides the methodology for assessing the soil condition, pasture condition and woodland condition. This involves assessing the landscape based on an A (high value), B, C or D (low value) rating for a number of different areas including:

  • Soil cover
  • Erosion risk
  • Levels of bush, grasses and forbs
  • Levels of recruitment of desirable species
  • Evidence of grazing impact on shrubs and soil
  • Palatable and non-palatable species
  • Weeds.

Land condition and landscape function have a strong focus in most of the grazing management and landscape monitoring systems. Three well-known approaches to monitoring landscape condition and function are:

Ecosystem Management Understanding (EMUTM)

  • Landscape Function Analysis
  • Tactical Grazing Management.

These approaches involve understanding and reading the landscape and identifying indicators of better function, or poorer function and degraded parts of the landscape. These approaches highlight the importance of rangeland ecological function and how it plays an important role in key processes such as infiltration of rainfall received.

Ecosystem Management Understanding (EMU™) considers landscape and catchment function and the processes whereby these functions can be restored through grazing management and on-ground works to alter the flow of water through the catchment. EMU involves reading and recognizing landscapes, internal linking processes (function), condition and trend (Walton J and Pringle H, 2010)

Landscape Function Analysis (LFA) is a program developed by David Tongway for both the ongoing monitoring of rangeland environments and for rehabilitating degraded areas. Landscape Function Analysis allows landholders to assess the results of their management actions and identify future priority areas. Landscape Function Analysis challenges the idea that vegetation equals a health landscape and instead focuses on soil condition as the basis for plant growth. A number of system elements are examined to determine where they are stable or unstable (Hannigan, 2007)

Tactical Grazing Management and other grazing management approaches provide a range of tools for assessing landscape to guide management decisions, e.g. assessment methods for ground cover and perennial grass utilisation. It also considers approaches to setting a stocking rate, the impact of non-domestic species and changes in shrub cover.

Weeds

All good NRM monitoring considers the prevalence, impact and cost of managing weeds. Weeds pose a significant threat to Australian rangeland systems and threaten pasture condition and woodland condition. In addition to threatening biodiversity through impacts on individual species and communities, they have the ability to downgrade key ecological processes.

The costs associated with weeds can be linked to:

  • Decreases in productivity of rangeland systems
  • Contamination of livestock products: fibre, meat
  • Damage to livestock: toxicity, grass seeds, other
  • Costs of control, containment or prevention.
  • There are six principles to achieving effective weed control:
  • Awareness: be aware of existing and potential weed problems
  • Detection: be on the lookout for new weed infestations before they become too large and difficult to handle
  • Planning: prioritise efforts and plan a strategy for successful control
  • Prevention: prevent new weed infestations and contain the spread of existing weeds
  • Intervention: control weeds early before they become out of control
  • Control and monitor: control, monitoring and follow-up are all aspects that will assist in achieving good weed control.

Weed management is an ongoing component of property and grazing systems management.

See tools 5.3 and 5.4 for weed management and control tactics

Signposts Signposts

Read

NRM Monitoring

Landscape Function Analysis.? http://www.csiro.au/Organisation-Structure/Divisions/Ecosystem-Sciences/EcosystemFunctionAnalysis.aspx

Tactical Grazing. http://www.mla.com.au/Livestock-production/Grazing-and-pasture-management/Improved-pasture/Grazing-management/Grazing-strategies

Campbell T and Hacker R (2000) The Glovebox Guide to Tactical Grazing Management for the semi-arid woodlands, NSW DPI

Weeds

Fensham R and Fairfax R (2007) Talking Fire: Burning for pastoral management in the Desert Uplands, Desert Uplands Build-up and Development Strategy Committee Barcaldine

Grice AC and Martin TG (2005) Weed Management: Managing for biodiversity in the rangelands, The CRC for Australian Weed Management. visit: http://www.environment.gov.au/resource/weed-management

Myers B et al. (2005) Fire Management: Managing for biodiversity in the rangelands, Natural Heritage Trust

Jessop P (2009) Management burning of invasive scrub: Principles, NSW Primefacts 852

Jessop P (2009) Management burning of invasive scrub: Techniques, NSW Primefacts 853

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