Rotational grazing and wet season spelling at Newcastle Waters
Robyn Cowley, Senior Rangeland Scientist
In the mid 2000s Brett and Pippa Krafft ran a cell grazing trial at Newcastle Waters. DPIR monitored the pastures and helped to write the report.
The Kraffts were happy with the cell system. They recommended spelling the cells over the wet season due to access issues on the black soil and then rotating animals through the cells when they were accessible. There were positive and negative aspects to the cell system when compared to a larger continuously grazed paddock nearby:
- Cell animals were quieter from regular handling.
- Infrastructure costs were kept low for the cells by using electric fencing.
- The cell system was fully watered with most of the cell paddocks within 3km from water compared to less than half of the larger continuously grazed paddock. This meant that more of the paddock was being utilised for grazing in the cells.
- However the labour and operating costs of the cell were more expensive (eight times more per animal equivalent) than in the larger continuously grazed paddock.
- Liveweight gain per head was lower in the cells.
- Preferred species were still more heavily grazed in the cell system, but grazing was more even out from water due to better water availability in smaller cell paddocks.
- There was improvement in pasture composition near an old water point in the cell paddocks, but also decline near a new water in the cell paddocks. Generally the pasture condition stayed about the same regardless of grazing system, but this was only over a short time period (two years).
Carrying capacity can only increase with more intensive rotational systems by two ways:
- The additional infrastructure and waters means that cattle can use all the landscape, rather than just the area within grazing range of waters (3km).
- Pasture condition could improve due to better matching stock numbers to available forage and regular spelling. However pasture recovery can take a very long time, in the order of 10 to 20 years.
It is recommended that when planning more intensive rotational systems:
- Ensure the scale of development is cost effective for the carrying capacity of the land.
- Don’t assume carrying capacity will improve due to better pasture composition for at least 10 years, and possibly much longer.
- Factor in the higher operating costs of cell systems.
- If you are wet season spelling cells every year, make sure you have somewhere with enough capacity for the animals when they are being spelled over the wet. If you overgraze another paddock to spell the cells, this could lead to pasture decline elsewhere.
- Training staff to use the new cell system is just as important as training the animals.
Last updated: 07 August 2019