What does “rain ready” look like?

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Many of us are now having a good start to the summer season, and by checking pasture growth and the movement of water in the country, we can see how successfully we had our country set up to be “rain ready”. Look closely now, and we can see what we have done well and where we can prepare better for next growing season.

“Rain ready” captured 1st storm, Box/Ironbark Charters Towers, Black spear, Bluegrass, Indian couch, Stylo, ground cover and tussocks

“Rain ready” captured 1st storm, Box/Ironbark Charters Towers, Black spear, Bluegrass, Indian couch, Stylo, ground cover and tussocks

What is “rain ready”?

“Rain ready” is a term we use that describes having country, at the break of the season, able to absorb as much rainfall as possible and, from this, grow an abundance of desirable forage. It is about gaining maximum harvest from the free inputs: rainfall and sunshine.

What does “rain ready” look like?

In different country types and climatic zones, it will appear different. However, the principles remain the same.

  • Maintain a diversity of perennial plants ready to respond to rain.
  • Build litter protecting the soil surface from raindrop impact, evaporation and slowing the movement of water.
  • Develop robust root systems to direct rainfall into the soil for storage and plant use.
  • Where ground cover is limited, encourage roughness and varying surface textures for retention and infiltration of rainfall.
Non-brittle country

In stoloniferous grasses: high ground cover and standing stalk gives the ultimate raindrop protection. Water movement will be slow and clean and perhaps some small bridges of litter that dam up water as it moves. In tussock pastures: strong tussocks with standing stalk and extensive root systems and plenty of litter in the inter-plant space.

Succession beginning on bare scald. Roughness and nutrient on a fast, smooth surface. Pigweed and one grass plant from cattle and rabbit dung

Succession beginning on bare scald. Roughness and nutrient on a fast, smooth surface. Pigweed and one grass plant from cattle and rabbit dung

Brittle country

In much of our arid country, there are distinct run-off and run-on areas across the landscape. Rainfall runs off the harder up-slope areas and concentrates, along with nutrient, in the run-on areas. Functioning run-on areas with trees, shrubs, perennial and annual grasses and forbes hold the rainfall from up-slope, and most growth will happen here.

How can we improve “rain ready” before and during rain?

“Rain ready” starts from whatever state that area of country is in. We will all have paddocks in varying states and levels of function, ranging from a good cover of high succession species through to bare scalds with fast, smooth surfaces. A key is to identify specific area states and how to assist them best to improve in function. The succession of country health starts from where the country condition is today.

Having our country in the best condition before the break of season;

  • Maximises rainfall effect
  • Assists country during the wet to retain rainfall and,
  • Optimises plant growth

If you want to achieve these goals, it requires planning, and there are many tools available.

Planning and monitoring

By knowing our country and understanding its potential, we can plan management that transitions country towards those goals. This is where we identify the resources and knowledge required, implement plans and check results.

Rest

What country will benefit most from a rest? Many managers lack the infrastructure to mob and move but could still shuffle stock around to rest some specific paddocks. Where can you start?

Stocking rate

Is our stocking rate in the non-growing period “right” so that we leave sufficient plant and ground cover to optimise growth?  Are our stock numbers “right” during the growing period so that feed accumulates and allows higher successional pasture species to increase? In much of our country, this includes shrub species that we grazed out over the years. What stock do we want where during the growing season?

Herd effect
Low-cost litter banks formed with dead branches

Low-cost litter banks formed with dead branches

Are there smooth-surfaced areas (scalds) where we can mob stock for short periods during rain with fencing or herding to leave hoof tracks, dung, and urine to hold rainfall and feed the successional process?

Interventions

These are typically mechanical and include ripping, seeding, ponding and water spreading, to name but a few. These will have varying levels of complexity, risk, and reward. Simple interventions can be litter banks of mulch hay or branches in areas where water flows quickly across the landscape. Anything to hold water and nutrient and trigger growth.

Design

We have infrastructure, roads, fences etc. across our country that can impede, concentrate, and redirect water movement, creating erosion and wet and dry areas.  Design, observation, and maintenance can minimise these risks.

A ROAD DRAINING MULGA COUNTRY. SAME DAY, TWO SIDES, 5 METRES APART

A ROAD DRAINING MULGA COUNTRY. SAME DAY, TWO SIDES, 5 METRES APART

A ROAD DRAINING MULGA COUNTRY. SAME DAY, TWO SIDES, 5 METRES APART

Final thoughts

Improving country condition can take time, as our seasons are variable and change is episodic. It takes patience and discipline of management to maintain focus on our goals for country.

Our role in this is to manage to have our country in the best condition possible to capture whatever the growing season gives us, and implement grazing management principles to retain the seasonal gains.

Author:
Raymond Stacey
RCS Coach and Advisor

Raymond Stacey