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: 11 September 2018