Are paddocks unevenly grazed?
If you can see obvious signs of patch grazing in paddocks (e.g., bare hilltops, sheep camps and rank grass in other parts), then utilisation can be improved. The issue of uneven grazing often has to be dealt with before stocking rate is increased. Running more stock will increase pasture utilisation, but any areas that are already overgrazed will be grazed even harder. Some short-term options include:
- Fencing paddocks to land class to reduce the variability within them. Land classes are based on soil type, slope, aspect and land use.
- Reducing selective grazing by either reducing paddock size/using bigger mobs to graze the paddock in a rotation. Boxing existing mobs and using existing paddocks for rotational grazing is the cheapest way to get started on evening up utilisation within paddocks.
Uniformity of pasture utilisation is affected by:
- Paddock size: smaller paddocks are generally grazed more evenly than large paddocks, but there is no ‘rule of thumb’ for optimum paddock size as it depends on flock size, the livestock production system and other factors (such as cropping requirements).
- Paddock uniformity: flat paddocks will be grazed more evenly than hilly paddocks, north-facing slopes will be grazed harder than south-facing slopes, saline areas will be preferentially grazed, etc.
- Grazing method: using large mobs of stock for short periods in a paddock will reduce the opportunity for selective grazing by stock and result in more even utilisation but may lower performance per animal.
- Type of stock: sheep are more selective grazers than cattle and they tend to create bigger camp areas. Cattle can be used to complement sheep grazing.
- Watering points: pasture utilisation will tend to be highest close to watering points. This is especially noticeable in large paddocks with a single watering point.
Compared with set-stocking, implementing a more intensive rotational grazing system will give more precise control of stock intake and more even pasture utilisation.