Finding a stocking sweet spot

Project aims to find pasture utilisation sweet spot for Northern Australia

Beef
SCIENCE OF STOCKING: Breeders at the Kidman Springs research site in the Northern Territory, one of the locations being used as part of the study.

SCIENCE OF STOCKING: Breeders at the Kidman Springs research site in the Northern Territory, one of the locations being used as part of the study.

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Researchers will comb through data from past projects in a bid to find the "sweet spot" balancing pasture utilisation rates and reproduction in Northern Australia.

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Researchers will comb through data from past projects in a bid to find the "sweet spot" balancing pasture utilisation rates and reproduction in Northern Australia.

The Sweet Spot project passed a major hurdle after finding 28 datasets from across the Northern Territory and North Queensland comprehensive enough to fit researchers' needs.

The $2M project is funded by Meat & Livestock Australia and is led by the Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Resources, collaborating with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and Department of Environment and Science.

Pasture scientists, cattle scientists, modellers and statisticians have come together for the project, which will ultimately compare pasture utilisation and reproduction outcomes to find ideal stocking rates.

NT pasture scientist and Sweet Spot project leader Robyn Cowley said they needed a range of different year types and locations to get a good variety in the data.

"These data sets all have at least three years data and hopefully they all have a range of year types and stocking rates which will affect the utilisation in those data sets," she said.

"These are the data sets that met the minimum requirements, there were a lot more than we thought there would be. Now we've got so many that we had to knock some back. There were some data sets from CSIRO in central Australia in the 1970s that were still on paper and unfortunately it was going to take a long time to digitise them."

Dr Cowley said the team hoped to develop algorithms that would allow individual stations to find their ideal stocking rates.

"Improving reproduction in Northern Australia is a major goal of Meat & Livestock Australia and a major goal of our department because it was found in the CashCow project that reproductive performance wasn't as good as it could be... we think there's real opportunities to improve that," she said.

"We really look forward to what comes out of this project and hopefully it will provide some useful tools for the industry to make some real changes."

Hopefully it will provide some useful tools for the industry to make some real changes - Robyn Cowley

NT pasture scientist and Sweet Spot project leader Robyn Cowley

NT pasture scientist and Sweet Spot project leader Robyn Cowley

Giving key research a new lease on life

Work from major Australian research projects is getting a second life, with researchers from the Sweet Spot project using the already-collected data in their desktop study.

The data sets being used date from 1993 through until 2018. They comprise nearly 90,000 records of cattle data from 24 different properties and about 120 paddocks.

One of the projects that will be included is the CashCow project, started in 2007.

The project investigated the fertility of 78,256 beef breeders from 75 selected commercial enterprises across northern Australia.

Dr Robyn Cowley said they would be able to analyse existing data sets in a new way.

"We don't have to spend more money on trying to collect it from scratch so we're getting the most out of datasets that already exist," she said.

"We're bringing in new explanatory data sets that haven't been used with these animal reproduction data sets before. For the first time ever we will be including indices of green cover from satellites and diet quality from faecal NIRS in our analysis of animal reproduction data."

The project is slated to run until April 2022.

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