Check out those roots

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I was driving around with a mate on his station in the Pilbara recently. We were talking all things cattle, business, people and grass so I suggested we pull up and dig up a couple of plants. I was surprised to hear that he had never done this on his place before. We pulled up a number of times to see what was happening beneath our feet. To be more specific, we were looking at what was happening with the plant root systems.

How we manage our grazing animals has an enormous impact on plant roots. Leave the animals to graze the sweet grass too long and you get short root systems. Leave the animals out of a paddock for too long and you’ll get short root systems. Grass needs stimulation. It has evolved to need grazing, cutting, burning, mowing etc to survive. It just happens we make more money out of grazing them. We go into this in detail in the RCS schools.

So let’s keep it simple. Whenever you go out in the paddock, take a shovel with you! It doesn’t take long to dig up a few plants and see what is happening below ground.

Now we weren’t trying to dig up too many spinifex plants on gibber stone country. We tended towards the softer flats – however that is exactly where the cattle were choosing as well.

Compare a few plants around watering points where you’ll have short grass and some in a fenced off area that hasn’t been grazed as much. Find a plant in a exclusion area (e.g. tree guard) that hasn’t been grazed or cut for years – see what is happening there. Get the kids and team members involved.

The depth, activity and diversity of root systems in your country is central to every aspect of profitability in your business. They impact everything from rainfall infiltration to drought, fire and flood recovery. Root systems are our primary tool to improve soil health which influences productivity and therefore profit. Yet we don’t spend enough time monitoring what is happening and learning as we go. Take a shovel with you!

I was delighted to hear that when my mate visited some stations in Central Queensland in the following weeks he ‘dug up every buffel plant in CQ’ as he checked out the roots with every place he went. Many of the places he visited commented they’d never done it before either!

Happy digging.

Author:
David McLean
RCS Chief of Delivery

David McLean