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Early results of how cattle respond to prescribed burning

An investigation into how cattle interact with early season burn practices and the resultant regrowth is nearing completion.

The preliminary results support common knowledge that cattle are reluctant to travel far from established water points and that optimally, country will be spelled (rested from grazing) for a wet season to recover from a burn.

The project aimed to investigate how cattle respond to the implementation of EcoFire (early season burning in a mosaic pattern). The Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) and CSIRO partnered with Rangelands NRM through funding from the National Landcare Programme’s Innovation Fund.

Rangelands NRM Project Manager (Kimberley) Kira Andrews said the project is fondly nicknamed “CaLF” as it is an investigation on how Cattle interaction with Land when Fire is present.

Vegetation was monitored over time as 50 free-ranging cattle wore GPS collars so the movement of animals were tracked during and after early season burning,” Mrs Andrews said.

Conquering a number of technical challenges arising from implementing technological innovations in a very remote environment, the AWC team managed to amass a vast quantity of data and the preliminary results are starting to trickle in.

“As analysis continues, we are gleaning useful information which will help us to develop tactics on cost effective ways of mitigating the impact of cattle on vegetation post burns,” Mrs Andrews said.

“For example, while the vegetative analysis has found clear evidence that unmanaged cattle impact on green pick is severe (arising both from both consumption and trampling), it has also shown us that the attraction to green pick is most intense when the revegetation is 2-8 weeks old”.

“Therefore, in cases where it is impossible to spell the area over a wet season, there are key benefits to keeping the cattle off for at least the first two months post burn”.

Mrs Andrews said “Another early result is that little evidence has been found of cattle moving more than 2km from a known water point even with the presence of green pick”.

“Therefore another easy adaption to maximise vegetative regrowth would be to place burns more than 2km from water points, which has the added benefit of reducing the risk to the water infrastructure,” she said.

AWC and Rangelands NRM would like to thank at this time Nigel and Cait Westlake for continued support as well as Jordan Hampton, Tom deRidder, Butch Maher and Mick Everett for their generous assistance with the development of a chemical capture method that allowed for the safe installation and removal of the GPS collars on the cattle.

Image: Cattle enjoying fresh grass