Growing profit from the ground up

Pasture Improvement Initiative

Better grazing management within easy reach

Key points

  • Stocking rate increases of up to 200% can be achieved through better grazing management.
  • By understanding how plants grow and what they need, producers can increase pasture production and persistence and animal growth rates.

Small improvements in grazing management can lead to quantum leaps in pasture persistence, production and profits in many livestock enterprises according to Basil Doonan, Macquarie Franklin.

According to Basil, producers can easily lift average annual stocking rates of around 14–15 dry sheep equivalents to 25–30DSE while boosting animal and pasture production.

“If you want the returns, you need to push the system but this means you’ve got to put in the effort and be a proactive grass manager.  It’s all about understanding plant morphology — what plants are there, how and when they grow, when they need grazing and when they need a break,” Basil said.

“What we see is when we apply more pressure on pastures at the right time (and for the right length of time) pasture quality improves along with animal growth rates.”

According to Basil the key is to keep the pastures actively growing so plant is persistent, productive and provides quality feed for as long as possible (this means keeping it in a vegetative stage).

“Many producers are distracted by things such as fertiliser, mineral supplements and alternative pasture species.  But in reality, grazing management is the foundation and unless you have that right first, anything you put on top is unlikely to be profitable.”

“Good grazing management means you need to know what your pastures are doing — that means regular monitoring and rotational grazing.  Have a good understanding of the plants you actually have in the paddock and how they grow and what they need to grow well.”

In a mixed pasture Basil suggests the key is to pick which plant you want to manage for and manage for that.

“Forget clover — focus on grass (the perennial type),” Basil recommended. “You’ll never hurt any grass plant by grazing short and sharp — its about giving it time to recover.”

It’s all in the timing

Timing of grazing is based on plant morphology (leaf stage) and seasonal growth and is the key to productive and persistent pastures.

“Monitoring is critical — it is about going to the plant and seeing what its doing and manipulating that through grazing to supply the best quality and quantity of feed to the animals.”

“Feed budgeting is a must and needs to be done 3–4 months out so decisions can be made early if the season changes.”

This story first appeared in the autumn 2015 edition of the Sheep Connect Tasmania newsletter.

To read about producers who are putting successful grazing principles into action take a look at PII’s range of on-farm case studies.

Relevant tools

Pasture Predictor

The Sense-T Pasture Predictor is a free on-line tool which aims to support productivity, efficiency and continuing growth in Australia’s livestock industries.
By providing 30-day forecasts for the growth of pasture and longer term trends for up to 90 days, the Pasture Predictor aims to help farmers make better decisions in managing their herds, production and costs.
Forecasts are provided for seven locations across Tasmania’s main beef and dairy areas.  Sense-T is currently working to expand the Pasture Predictor to mainland grazing regions.

Feed budgeting and tactical management

The EverGraze website has a wealth of practical resources to help producers develop feed budgets and manage their grazing strategies to maximise productivity, profitability and pasture persistence.