Systematic management of stocking rates improves performance of northern Australian cattle properties in a variable climate

Lester I. Pahl, Joe C. Scanlan, Giselle L. Whish, Robyn A. Cowley, Neil D. MacLeod


The risks for extensive cattle properties in the rangelands of northern Australia arising from high inter-annual rainfall variability are predominantly managed through adjustments in stocking rates (SR). This modeling study compared the performance of SR strategies that varied considerably in the extent that they adjusted SR annually at 3 locations in northern Australia. At all locations, land types and pasture condition states, the SR strategies that achieved the best pasture condition were those that least increased and most decreased SR annually in response to changes in forage availability. At Donors Hill (Qld), these conservative strategies also achieved the highest cattle liveweight gains per hectare (LWG/ha). While conservative strategies produced the highest percent perennial pasture species at Fitzroy Crossing (WA), strategies which allowed larger increases and decreases in SR also performed well, enabling them to also achieve high LWG/ha with little deterioration of pasture condition. A similar trend occurred at Alice Springs (NT), although at this location the strategies with even larger annual increases and decreases in SR achieved relatively high percent perennials and the highest LWG/ha. While systematic management of SR appears to perform better than a constant SR strategy when rainfall variability is high, it is unclear if the magnitude of annual adjustments in SR needs to increase with increasing rainfall variability.

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