The maximum number of stock that can be carried all year is usually limited by pasture availability during the period of lowest feed supply. This is generally in the autumn/winter in both summer and winter rainfall zones. It is critical to get the time of lambing right to optimise the number of ewes that can be carried through the period of lowest feed supply.

Matching animal demand to feed supply requires a flexible enterprise structure that allows you to respond to seasonal conditions in a way that works for you, whether that be through buying in or selling off stock, retaining an older age group of ewes or more wethers or retaining key breeding stock and supplementary feeding when necessary. This is particularly important to be able to respond and capitalise in “better years”. In this way, the annual stocking rate may not change but there will be larger seasonal differences. Focus on seasonal adjustment of stock numbers to suit the conditions.

The major risks associated with increasing stocking rate and pasture utilisation are:

  • Poor persistence of desirable pasture species.
  • Bare paddocks.
  • Reduced stock health.
  • Damage to sensitive areas such as water courses and embankments.
  • More need for supplementary feeding.
  • Increased impact from droughts.

All of these risks are real but they can be managed using stock assessment, grazing management, feed budgeting and working towards a more flexible enterprise structure. The above risks will be reduced significantly if stock numbers are seasonally adjusted at pre-defined trigger points (feed available, ground cover, condition score, etc.).

Review the match between your pasture supply and animal demand curves then align these curves to minimise production, financial and environmental risk. Ask yourself:

  • Am I lambing when my pasture supply is most reliable?
  • Can I increase stock numbers during a one-in-five or one-in-ten year early break?
  • Can I easily sell or find agistment for the livestock classes I carry through the months where pasture growth is not reliable?
  • In general, how closely does the feed demand of my flock match my pasture growth?
  • What options do I have for increasing feed supply in the slowest growth period, e.g., supplementary feeding, deferred grazing, etc.?
  • Can I do anything to lengthen the periods of good pasture growth or move them forward or back?
  • Do I store enough feed to cover bad seasons?
  • Can I use cash reserves to cover bad seasons?

This chapter will help you understand any mismatch between pasture supply and animal demand and minimise exposure to changing seasonal conditions, both within a year and between years.

It will help you make both strategic (i.e., 1-5 years) and tactical (short term within the current year) decisions that relate to managing stocking rates, and answer the questions like ‘do you have enough stock? Too few or too many?’