Seasonal pasture growth is highly variable from year to year. The variability of pasture growth is an indicator of risk and impacts on how easily you can set an optimal stocking rate target or how reliable a particular time of year might be for lambing or calving. These risks differ for different localities – making some areas more “reliable” than others.
Managing a property at low levels of pasture utilisation may be easier and perceived as less risky, but it will also be less profitable. For example, if you set the stocking rate to cope with the worst 10%-20% of years (i.e. below the 20th percentile for pasture growth), you will miss out on the opportunities to make more profit in the other 80% of years.
The major risks producers associate with increasing pasture utilisation are: poor pasture persistence, barer paddocks (in late summer/autumn), stock health, more supplementary feeding, and drought management issues.
All of these risks can be managed. However, to do so successfully will require a high level of management expertise in areas of pasture and stock assessment and feed budgeting.
The average pasture curve (shape and length of the growing season) for a location is used to help make strategic decisions about your enterprise choice, your long term stocking rate and timing of operations such as lambing or calving, stock sales and shearing. Making good strategic decisions will improve the match between feed supply with animal demand, and reduce risk.
Making good tactical decisions will help you cope with the different pasture growth rates/seasonal conditions within a year and between years.
You will need to exercise flexibility with stock numbers and review during the year and between years to optimise utilisation and manage risk. How much flexibility you have to increase or decrease stock numbers will depend on your enterprise, value of stock, and whether there is a disease risk if agisting or trading stock.
You need to have trigger points for action that are well before critical feed shortages might occur. For example, if it hasn’t rained by a certain date, you might sell some more stock, or purchase more grain for ewes and weaners, or plan to use nitrogen and rotational grazing in order to boost pasture availability leading up to lambing. If it still hasn’t rained by another later date you might put your drought/dry season management plan into action, which may involve selling lower value stock and placing more valuable stock in a containment area (drought lot) for feeding.
Drought management plans
• Determine what constitutes a “drought” or a dry year for you in your environment. For example, it may be a failed spring followed by a failed autumn.
• Set trigger points for action. That is, if certain weather conditions occur, I will take this particular action now (e.g. sell some stock)
• Be ready for a drought/dry year. This will include keeping adequate feed reserves, having containment areas/drought lots, and a plan for which stock will be sold and which will be kept and fed in the drought lot. Decisions about which stock to keep or sell will depend on their value at the time, the probable cost of feeding, the value of any production that would be gained should they be kept and their future replacement value should that be necessary. There are a number of publications which can help you prepare such a plan (see links below).
• Assess ground cover and litter (dead pasture) - De-stock paddocks once they fall below 70% ground cover or 1000 -1500 kg DM/ha (litter). Put stock into a containment area/drought lot.
“Managing climate risk “ workshop
This Mackinnon Project workshop is designed to allow producers to develop their own action plan for their property with the support of Mackinnon consultants and the latest decision support tools. The workshop covers:
• Rainfall variation
• Seasonal pasture growth and yearly variation
• Impact of climate change on pasture growth patterns
• Planning your enterprise strategy to manage risk
• Tactical decisions and options to mange risk
• Developing a climate risk/drought action plan
For further information contact the Mackinnon Project
The Mackinnon Project Drought Decision Support Tool
To view the MLA Rainfall to Pasture tool, click here.
To view AWI drought related publications click here.