Analysis of the liveweight measurements collected from the Sentinel herd based at the Arid Zone Research Institute was the catalyst to begin planning the Producer Steer Challenge. The Sentinel herd is made up of Droughtmaster and Droughtmaster cross heifers bred on Old Man Plains Research Station (OMP). The heifers enter the Sentinel herd at around 8 months of age and remain in the herd until 20 months of age when they are returned to OMP to calf and join the breeder mobs.
Since 2009 consistent growth rates have been achieved in the Sentinel herd by adjusting stocking rates and rotating the herd through paddocks based on feed availability.
Figure 2 (below): the change in liveweight for the Sentinel herd.
Figure 2. Consistent growth rates of grass feed heifers were achieved when stocking rates were adjusted to available forage at Arid Zone Research Institute (AZRI). With the exception of the 2008 brand heifers that was affected by coccidiosis.
With the data collected from the Sentinel herd, along with the pasture and cattle research projects happening at OMP the Livestock Industry Development team wondered how cattle from different areas of central Australia would perform under a similar grazing regime.
The aim of the Central Australian Quality Graze: Producer Steer Challenge is to provide a neutral venue for producers to compare their steer performance under the latest grazing land management (GLM) recommendations.
Matching stocking rate to carrying capacity is the first and foremost recommendation for the GLM. Before the steers entered the two paddock rotation on Old Man Plains (OMP), a forage budget, used to determine stocking rate for seasonal conditions was undertaken. This tool is used to determine stocking rate for seasonal conditions and ensured forage reserves would match required animal production.
The 'Challenge' steers are in a two paddock rotation to incorporate pasture spelling which is the second GLM recommendation. The first paddock the steers are grazed in is Mulga Dam paddock which has been previously spelled. The second paddock to be grazed is 12 Mile which is currently being spelled over the 2014/2015 period ready for the 'Challenge' steers in 2015.
The selection of steers to participate in the 'Challenge' commenced with animal health testing and quarantining of the animals. The Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries (DPIF) staff travelled approximately 7000km during this phase of testing and collected the animals once cleared. Selected steers were further quarantined at the NT DPIF Quarantine Paddock with baseline data recorded before being transported to Mulga Dam Paddock to begin the 'Challenge'.