Pasture Monitoring

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We all, as part of life, monitor progress – finances, sporting achievements etc. We keep budgets and compare monthly budgeted cashflows to actuals; from this we can make decisions if things are not progressing as planned.

We record and monitor percentage of calves weaned to cows joined to benchmark herd productivity and take management decisions to run a more profitable herd. On an ongoing basis we formally monitor performance so that data is available from which informed decisions can be made. If we don’t, we are only guessing.

Why not the same with our key resource – our pasture or landscape?

The memory fades and we do not remember accurately what the land condition of an area of country was several years ago. Changes can be well advanced before we take notice.

Some simple monitoring sites will change this.

By photographing and taking written observations of species present and percentage groundcover, over time we are able to pick up trends in pasture condition – an increase or decrease in preferred desirable species, changes in woody vegetation etc. From this we can make decisions about our stocking rates, percentage of feed utilised, plant rest periods, appropriateness of land use and potential intervention requirements.

Monitoring sites will not only assist us with grazing and land management decisions, but are also a key tool that can be used in lease renewal negotiations, vegetation management applications and any time that we are challenged about our impact upon the landscape. If we are doing the correct thing by our land we need have nothing to fear through documenting our progress.

These sites need to be:

  • representative of the land type
  • representative of the management type (pick an average area that will change with management, not the best or worst spot).
  • located away from water points
  • photographed each year at the end of the growing season at least. (Many people also photograph prior to the wet – this is great and really shows how you managed your non growing season)
  • written recordings of pasture species and ground cover every couple of years at end of growing season.

A few representative and well recorded sites will be of more use than a whole bunch of sites that we don’t get time to do.

Setting up a site

Requirements:

  • 2 Steel posts
  • Camera
  • Notebook

Method:

  1. At a representative site, drive in post 1.
  2. Step off 10 metres to the south and drive in post 2.
  3. Standing at post 1, take a landscape photograph, with the top of post 2 in the centre of the photograph.
  4. From the tray of a vehicle parked against post 1, take a photo with base of post 1 in centre (this is the ground cover photo).
  5. In notebook record groundcover percentages around the area, pasture species present and the ratios of each. You can also make estimates of amount of feed available in SDH, DDH, or kgs. This final process forms the basis of feed budgets.

We also recommend measuring basal area between the posts and using a GPS to record the location (yes, we do forget).  However, if you just started with these points above, you’re up and running.

A good business tool as well as an insurance policy. A few years down the track you will be pleased you started.

Examples of one person’s monitoring

SITE 1, April 2005
Bare ground >75%
Aristida 5-10%
Buffel >5%
Annuals 5-10%
Yield 250 kg/Ha
SITE 1, April 2008
Bare Ground <25%
Aristida and annuals 10%
Buffel 25%
Urochloa 25%
Indian couch 25%
Stylo 5%
Yield 1200kg/ha
SITE 2 April 2004, 437 mm previous 12 mths
Bare Ground 40%
Buffel 25%
Indian Couch 20%
Other 15%
Yeild 1000kg/ha
SITE 2 April 2008, 1055 mm previous 12mths
Bare ground <5%
Buffel 35%
Black spear 5%
Indian couch 35%
Stylo 15%
Other <10%
Yield 2500 Kg/ha
SITE 2 April 2012, 842 mm previous 12 mths
Bare Ground <%5
Buffel 30%
Indian couch 30%
Stylo 20%
Blackspear 10%
Bluegrass 5%
Other 5%
Yield 3500Kg/ha

Article by

Raymond Stacey
RCS Consultant


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