Rangelands NRM Blog, News & Resources

Balancing Livestock Nutrition and Sustainability in WA rangelands

[November 2014]

Rangelands NRM is supporting a number of initiatives to help producers manage the balance between the nutritional needs of livestock and sustaining the pasture base.

Rangelands NRM’s Sustainable Pastoralism manager Paul Erkelenz said this is a constant challenge faced by all WA pastoral managers, regardless of location.

The sheer size of paddocks or other management units, the diversity of the vegetation on offer and highly variable rainfall in pastoral areas make the whole livestock feed demand vs. supply equation considerably more complex than that faced by agricultural and high rainfall zone producers.

“There is much more uncertainty as to what type of feed is going to be available, how much is going to be available and when it’s going to be available,” Mr Erkelenz said.

“This makes it a lot harder to ensure that the feed on offer will be enough to meet the maintenance, growth and production demands of the number of livestock being run at any given time,” he said.

On top of that, there are other grazers utilising the pasture base and there needs to be an allowance made for the pasture species being grazed themselves; so that they can continue to reproduce and generate grazeable plant matter in future.

Finding the right balance requires a pastoral manager to have a good working knowledge of the pasture species being grazed by livestock on their property, the nutritional value of those species, the nutritional needs of the different classes of livestock being run, the quantity of feed available and a realistic understanding of risk (particularly climate).

All of this informs decisions on the grazing management system (e.g. set stocking, rest based systems etc.) to be used and is supported by tools such as feed budgeting, to help make critical operational decisions such as how many stock to run and where to run them.

“Grazing management, particularly in the rangelands, is not an exact science and there are other factors such as economics that come into play,” Mr Erkelenz said.

However, there’s little doubt that producers who do have a good knowledge of their pasture base, the nutritional needs of their livestock and who use the tools available will be in a better position to strike the right balance than those that don’t.

Mr Erkelenz said Rangelands NRM is supporting a number of initiatives that are helping producers to obtain the knowledge and tools they need to optimise livestock productivity while maintaining their feed base.
“We’re helping pastoralists to build up their plant identification skills through funding workshops, field days and the publication of plant identification guides,” he said.

We’ve also provided support for the delivery of the MLA’s Grazing Land Management workshops and we’re funding a small project that’s looking at the nutritional value of a number native pasture species in the middle and upper parts of the Gascoyne catchment.

Recent interest by pastoralists in exploring alternative strategies and tools to use in their pastoral grazing systems has also been supported through two projects funded by the Australian Government, through sustainable agriculture Innovation Grants ‘ Rangelands Self Herding and the Kimberley Cattle, Land and Fire project (CaLF).

Mr Erkelenz strongly encouraged pastoral managers to get involved in these current initiatives, or come up with project ideas themselves.

The Sustainable Pastoralism component of the National Landcare Program that Rangelands NRM manages provides pastoralists in our region with a number of possibilities we can provide funding support for workshops, field days, other training opportunities, trial/demo sites and publications that will help the industry better manage the livestock needs/pasture base balance.

Further information on current activities and project support on livestock needs and pasture-base space can be obtained from Rangelands NRM’s regional Program Managers (Grey Mackay – Kimberley, Chris Curnow – Pilbara, Jane Bradley – Southern Rangelands).