Directing cattle to graze on dry land: recommendations

May 7, 2014 by Geoff Vivian
The group recommends several cattle management strategies for dry season pastures in unfenced lands. Credit: Jim Bendon

A group of scientists and pastoralists is trialling a series of measures to modifying cattle grazing behaviour they term "Rangelands Self Shepherding".

Animal nutritionist at CSIRO Perth, Dr Dean Revell says after restocking, cattle tend to graze a limited part of the station near dry season waterpoints, and tend to eat plants they already know.

Without further management, this leads to overgrazing in patches, with individual animal's nutritional needs not always being met.

"Using behaviour of animals to our advantage is our underlying principle," he says.

"Lowering stress levels in animals broadens their willingness to try new things.

"Animals can be encouraged to use areas that become underutilised and avoid over utilisation.

"You've got to allow rest and recovery periods for parts of the landscape.

"Part of what we want to do is not just bring animals to a new area but hold them there through influence, not just through the control of a fence."

Together with NSW famer Bruce Maynard and US animal behaviourist Prof Fred Provenza, they recommend several cattle management strategies for pastures in unfenced lands.

Firstly, water points are left on for a limited time, encouraging cattle to thoroughly graze surrounding pasture.

When a water point is switched off, cattle move elsewhere, allowing pasture to regenerate.

Secondly, Dr Revell says placing (aka "putting lollies out") at strategic points also encourages this localised grazing.

He says while it is important, when choosing supplements, to analyse and remedy any dietary deficiencies the cattle have, it also encourages self-shepherding.

"Animals will seek out something they need with much greater vigour and effort than something that they're already getting," he says.

Thirdly, they recommend never re-stocking a station with an entirely new herd.

He says "naive" cattle in unfamiliar country are less inclined to try eating new plants and grazing new pastures.

Older more experienced cattle play an important coaching role for younger beasts.

Fourthly, strategically placed markers such as roadways and small lengths of fence tend to direct movement towards new pastures.

Dr Revell says it is important that none of these new practices involves extra work, as cattlemen are busy enough already.

"It has to be low cost and it has to be with minimal hours of labour too," he says.

The group will host workshops for pastoralists in Broome on 8–9 May 2014.

It aims to undertake federally funded trials with three selected pastoral groups.

Explore further: Grazing management effects on stream pollutants

Related Stories

Grazing management effects on stream pollutants

July 21, 2011

Surface water quality is important for the proper function of aquatic ecosystems, as well as human needs and recreation. Pasturelands have been found to be major sources of sediment, phosphorus and pathogens in Midwest surface ...

Rangeland management is key to surviving drought

March 14, 2014

Improved management adapted to changing rangeland conditions will be a key to surviving three back-to-back years of drought, according to Tim Steffens, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service rangeland management specialist ...

Ranchers benefit from long-term grazing data

April 16, 2014

Scientists studying changes in the Earth's surface rely on 40 years of Landsat satellite imaging, but South Dakota ranchers making decisions about grazing their livestock can benefit from 70 years of data gathered at the ...

Remote livestock management system of the future

November 26, 2013

In a development that could revolutionise the way livestock are managed in rangelands around the world, three Australian cattle stations have been chosen to pioneer the remote livestock management system of the future.

Ancient African cattle first domesticated in Middle East

March 27, 2014

Geneticists and anthropologists previously suspected that ancient Africans domesticated cattle native to the African continent nearly 10,000 years ago. Now, a team of University of Missouri researchers has completed the genetic ...

Cows like leaves their tongues can wrap around easily

March 3, 2010

Lots of leaves growing in easy reach of a cow's tongue means less time and less land needed to raise beef cattle, according to Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and DairyNZ (New Zealand) scientists.

Recommended for you

The astonishing efficiency of life

November 17, 2017

All life on earth performs computations – and all computations require energy. From single-celled amoeba to multicellular organisms like humans, one of the most basic biological computations common across life is translation: ...

Unexpected finding solves 40-year old cytoskeleton mystery

November 17, 2017

Scientists have been searching for it for decades: the enzyme that cuts the amino acid tyrosine off an important part of the cell's skeleton. Researchers of the Netherlands Cancer Institute have now identified this mystery ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.