It’s time to challenge your carrying capacity benchmark

In Blog by Trent SiddhartaLeave a Comment

In 2008, when I visited the McLaughlins for an on-farm consult, I told them that they needed to reduce their carrying capacity benchmark. To their credit, they took a leap of faith and they did this, adjusting their stocking rate to match their actual carrying capacity (grazing management principle 2) – see graph below.

Moving the benchmark up

As water cycle, soil health and utilisation levels improve, the benchmark Carrying Capacity should be moved up.

Moving the benchmark down

There are three circumstances when the benchmark will need to be lowered. These are:

  1. If it was overestimated in the first place.
  2. Excess rain and runoff.
  3. The second and subsequent years of a drought, (on heavy clay soils only, where it should be halved)

In the McLaughlin’s case, their scenario was number 1.

The pink line in their graph (which maps their carrying capacity versus stocking rate over the last thirteen years) shows the distinct drop in 2008 when they made the tough decision to drop their carrying capacity benchmark.

For the next five years, the McLaughlin’s kept their benchmark carrying capacity at 10SDH/100mm and followed the 6 RCS Regenerative Grazing Management Principles. You will see though, in 2014 their stocking rate rose to between 18 and 19 SDH/100mm.

At the recent KIT Day, after taking a property tour I asked the question to the group – “do we think that the carrying capacity benchmark needs to be increased and how do we know if it is appropriate to do so?”

Challenging the benchmark

There are 3 questions that should be asked at the end of each non growing season to challenge where the benchmark should be for the next year.

These are:

  1. Are my stock in the condition they should be at this time of the year?
  2. Are my pastures in the condition they should be at this time of the year?
  3. What has my gut feel been about Stocking Rate for the last few months?

If all are positive, then move the benchmark up to match the stocking rate. If all are negative, then the benchmark is obviously too high for the current stocking rate. In the McLaughlin’s case, the answer to all three questions was yes – meaning they can now increase their benchmark carrying capacity up to 18 SDH/100mm.

The great thing is that this carrying capacity is higher than it was during the first 6 years and they are seeing a dominance of desirable species. In next month’s newsletter, I will explain why the McLaughlin’s now have a higher carrying capacity of desirable species and how you can too.

The tough decisions certainly pay off!

The important messages here are:

  • Match Stocking Rate to the Carrying Capacity of desirable species.
  • The Carrying Capacity benchmark is not cast in stone and needs to be challenged annually.
  • Be willing to make the tough decisions – it will pay off in the long run.
  • Use feed budgeting as a tool to back up the benchmark.

Terry McCosker
2014