Balancing pasture and stock

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In the northern half of Australia, the summer growing season is nearly over. Much of the feed available for grazing is grown, and the next growing season is many months away. April/May is the time to be in the paddock and planning the grazing year step by step. This is all about RCS Grazing Principles;

#1 Plan, Monitor, Manage
#3 Stocking Rate not exceeding Carrying Capacity, and
#4 Managing livestock effectively

When estimating carrying capacity (CC)

Feed budget how much grazing is available on a paddock-by-paddock basis across the whole grazing area. Check paddocks and use direct, standardised estimates of feed such as stock days per hectare (SDH or DDH). Going via the kgs of available feed route, or using experience to estimate how many head can stay for how long in each paddock, determine how many stock days of feed are available for grazing. It is critical in these estimates that we are realistic about;

  • what pasture stock will productively graze,
  • how far they will walk to grazing and,
  • leaving plants and ground cover so country is rain ready.

When planning the use of the feed

We do not have to graze pasture. We may want to burn areas, not graze at all or graze quite lightly. It is important to subtract the amount of feed that we plan not to graze from the stock days of feed available.

How long does this feed we plan to graze need to last?

The period from the time of the feed planning to a date past our Green Date is the rationing phase. RCS has, for 30+ years, used the Green Date concept to calculate this date for individual properties. Our Green Date is when there is a 70% probability of sufficient summer rain, when temperature and day length are right, to produce active growth. I have always planned for at least six weeks of productive grazing remaining in my paddocks at Green Date so that I’m not caught short of feed at the time of highest growth probability.

When estimate stocking rate (SR)

How much feed does the current herd or flock plan need? Model the current herd or flock through on a month-by-month basis. Different classes of animals have different feed requirements depending upon weight, growth, pregnancy and lactation.  A standard animal unit is a 450 kg steer or a 50 kg dry merino at maintenance. Using these Animal Units (AU/LSU/DSE/AE), we estimate how many stock days of feed is required to feed our planned herd or flock for the period.

Does the feed available match the feed required?

If we have more feed than our stock plan requires, what do we do with the surplus? This is a great chance to explore growing or adding to your enterprises. If we forecast having more stock than pasture, it is essential to take immediate steps to match Stocking Rate to Carrying Capacity (SR:CC). The earlier the reduction in numbers, the less stock we need to move, sell or agist.

Which stock go where?

The feed available in different areas will suit different classes of stock. Plan this. Which paddocks are best suited to which stock? Keep in mind, it may not be the same paddocks as in previous years. Are there paddocks that we want to condition by grazing down? Graze these with mature stock that don’t need to weight gain.

When checking the plan

The animals will tell us how accurate our feed estimates have been. If paddocks are grazed down more than we expected, we have overestimated feed available. If more feed is left behind than initially intended, we have underestimated feed available. Ground truthing as we go, courtesy of the stock, is a great way to train our eye in feed budgeting.

When to adjust the plan

Stuff happens. Fires, floods, grasshoppers, miscalculating.  Be adaptable, modify the plan and act in real-time as things change.

Happy grazing, and may you have a tad more pasture than stock this year.

Raymond Stacey
RCS Coach and Advisor

Raymond Stacey