We, in the RCS network, have been talking a lot in the past few months about matching stocking rate to carrying capacity (Regenerative Grazing Principle number 3) and feed budgeting (a planning part of Regenerative Grazing Principle 1- Plan monitor and manage). Some of us have been fair banging on about it. My colleagues have been writing blogs about it. There is a good reason for this.
Much of northern and eastern Australia is experiencing back on back below par seasons. Northern Queensland has had huge rain over a short space of time. In parts of eastern Queensland pasture dieback is rampant. Much of our rain has fallen in the later part of summer.
Many people have been doing a good job of matching the SDH/100mm stocking rate to their SDH/100mm carrying capacity benchmark. This bench mark is based upon your estimated long term carrying capacity. Stock numbers have been adjusted (stock moved out) from the middle of last year (2018) and this has continued as stocking rates have been matched to carrying capacity based on the paper figures. Good start.
In spite of this, my colleagues and I are seeing many paddocks where there are more mouths than grass. The pasture is not growing as some folk have expected. One grazier, who has been doing a good job measuring grass and has commenced implementing the first four regenerative grazing principles, commented, “I have been working to our benchmark for quite some time but for the past 12 months have not been able to stock at that rate”. It was an astute move to not stock up to their benchmark SDH/100mm.
We need to be ground truthing the paper figures. If we start to look closely into the paddock we will see good reason for this.
The pasture is not as vigorous and fulsome as some have expected.
How many back on back dry seasons have you had? Did you reduce the benchmark back then? (We wrote of this in an early 2017 blog). If you have overstocked, plants will be bitten down too far and repeatedly so recovery will be slow as root reserves have been run down. Rest does not fix an overstocking issue. Country’s ability to capture and hold rainfall has been diminished.
How much pasture dieback is in your paddocks? We have seen any number of places that have 25% or more of the property dieback affected. This immediately reduces carrying capacity by 25%. If your benchmark was 20 SDH/100mm it is now 15 SDH/100mm. There are less plants to convert sunlight and rainfall to feed.
The bottom line, whether we like it or not, is carrying capacity has been reduced by seasonal and disease factors in many paddocks. We need to plan, monitor and manage for the present reality.
A feed budget starts from how we want the plants and the country to be when the rain comes. That is ground cover and healthy tussocks, “rain ready”. Plan back from there how much you can graze, how long it needs to last and get stock numbers right early.
If we eat into the pasture health by overstocking and under resting we have to be prepared for the give back (reducing stocking rates in SDH/100 mm below where we would normally be). If give back is not done be prepared to see country spiral down in health with an ever reducing ability to grow usable pasture. Pasture composition will change with better grazing species reducing in numbers and an increase in lesser quality grazing species. In much of eastern Queensland this opens the pasture sward to Indian couch dominance. We effectively graze out the better grazing species.
We are now mid-May; there will be little growth from here on in summer growing country. If you cannot see the grass there now, you cannot plan to eat it.
If you need expert advice on where your grass bank is sitting, or a hand to work out your carrying capacity, stocking rates and critical dates, get in contact with our team.
RCS advisor, facilitator and Next Steps coach.