Introducing Paddock Power

A new project that will have broad application across northern Australia has commenced in the Northern Territory.

Previous research (e.g. the Pigeon Hole experiment and the Beetaloo project) has demonstrated that developing more water points is a sound investment for achieving better pasture utilisation and increasing carrying capacity. However, the improvements in breeder herd performance and/or live weight gain that can be achieved from infrastructure development are less clear.

Fencing and water development is gathering pace on large properties across northern Australia. However, it is very expensive and producers have told us they are seeking stronger evidence of potential productivity increases in order to better articulate the business case to financiers.

The current situation

Many breeder paddocks in northern Australia are too big and under-watered to achieve optimum productivity. Impacts on reproduction and profitability include:

  • over-and under-utilised feed (depending on distance from water)
  • incomplete musters
  • limited opportunities to implement herd segregation, controlled mating or tactical pasture management

Cattle having to walk long distances out to feed reduces their live weight gain and body condition. The negative impact of poor body condition on re-conception and calf survival rates further reduces breeder herd productivity.

Some producers speculate that calves born in large, poorly-watered paddocks are at greater risk of separation from their dam, with breeders leaving newborn calves to return several kilometres back to water. This may increase the risk of predation or dehydration and contribute to the high calf loss rates (>20% and up to 35%) often observed for heifers grazing such paddocks.

Paddock Power has thus been designed to answer three key questions:

Question 1: How much impact does paddock area and distance-to-water have on production?

How will we do this? Use existing datasets and new paddock trials to measure:

  • rates of calf wastage
  • mortality rates
  • steer growth rates
  • how many kilograms of beef are produced in a paddock, and how many kilograms of beef could potentially be produced

Question 2: Where should we put new infrastructure to get best bang for buck?

How will we do this? Use GPS tracking to measure:

  • how far cattle are walking - with and without calves
  • how far from water calves are being born
  • how cattle utilise paddocks of different sizes and watered area
  • how paddock usage patterns change throughout the year

Question 3: What infrastructure development option will deliver the best return on investment for my situation?

How will we do this? Roll out the “Paddock Power Calculator”:

  • compare the performance of potential development options identified by the producer
  • work out return on investment and payback period on the basis of your cost base, land types and productivity

Want to get involved?

The Paddock Power project is funded by Meat and Livestock Australia and the Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Resources and will run until April 2021.

Last updated: 14 June 2019