Pastoralists in the rangelands have begun trials using principles of ‘Rangelands Self Shepherding’ (RSS) where livestock are encouraged to modify their grazing behaviours.
A series of workshops to discuss the underlying principles and to develop practical implementation strategies with pastoralists in the Kimberley, Pilbara and Gascoyne have been delivered by Dr Dean Revell and Bruce Maynard, who are working with Rangelands NRM to deliver the program through the nutritional shepherding Innovation Grant received from the Commonwealth Government.
Dean said the concept of controlled grazing usually conjures the image of more fencing.
“That’s not always practical in the extensive landscapes of our rangeland systems,” he said.
“Through our work so far, we are seeing the potential of modifying grazing behaviours based on how livestock learn about, and adapt to, their surroundings,” Dean said.
In the Kimberley, Country Downs Station north of Broome is facing new challenges after a large fire burnt 90 per cent of the property. One of the first strategies in the rebuilding phase was to collect cattle from various locations of the property and relocate them to a new water point on a relatively small area of unburnt country.
In a relocation to a new area such as this, we’d normally be worried about the cattle scattering and returning quite quickly to their original locations, said Nikki Elezovich, who runs Country Downs with her husband Kurt.
However, with a combination of tactics that combined nutritional attractants, visual and audio cues that act as signals to cattle that rewards have been placed or moved, and stockmanship to reduce stress levels in the animals to better prepare them for the relocation, the distribution of most cattle in the relocated mob was controlled to within the targeted area for the 3-4 weeks of monitoring.
We were really pleased how the relocation went, said Nikki. œWhilst a few individuals returned to their original range, most stayed in the area we wanted them to.
Their grazing circuits then widened as regrowth from the fire started to appear.
“The cattle learnt quickly that it’s in their interests to remain within reach of the attractants,” Nikki said.
Two cows were fitted with GPS tracking cows to show their location in real time, and motion detection cameras capture images of animals at the feed troughs.
Dean said once the herd behaviour in a new location strengthens over time, there can be less reliance on nutritional attractants to influence grazing location because the animals develop a new set of experiences that shape their ongoing behaviour.
“And now that a group of cattle at Country Downs have learnt the audible and visual cues and the value of nutritional attractants, these tactics can help establish other new behaviours elsewhere on the property in due course,” he said.
Photo taken from a motion-detector camera that was set up at one of the locations where attractant troughs to capture the ˜action’ of cattle at the troughs.