Sustainable rangeland management

The majority of the feedbase for the Northern Territory (NT) cattle industry is rain-fed native pastures that vary dramatically across the landscape and between seasons. This variability makes it challenging to optimise animal production whilst maintaining the long-term productivity of the feed resource. The role of the Rangeland Program within the Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade is to conduct research and provide evidence-based land management advice to industry.

Carrying capacity is the optimal number of animals that a given area can support while maintaining pastures and animal production in the long-term. Carrying capacity takes into account the amount and palatability of the pasture as well as pasture condition. The department has developed a catalogue of pasture growth models for the important pastoral land types of the NT. These models are used to estimate sustainable livestock carrying capacity and to evaluate the performance of management options/practices.

The department fields numerous requests each year from both family-owned and corporate enterprises to provide advice on carrying capacity, property development and land management. This typically involves property visits to verify infrastructure and land type mapping and to assess pasture growth and land condition in order to provide tailored information and advice.

A “grazing system” refers to how animals are managed through space and time on a property. Continuous grazing, rotational grazing, cell grazing and wet season spelling are grazing systems that have been the focus of past and current department research. The purpose of the department's research is to identify management options that will result in the sustainable use of pastures, optimal animal production and long-term profitability.

The department has conducted several projects on grazing systems across the NT:

  • Pigeon Hole (Victoria River District) - compared multiple systems
  • Rockhampton Downs (Barkly) - rotational waters
  • Beetaloo-Mungabroom (Barkly) - intensive rotational grazing
  • Old Man Plains Research Station (Alice Springs) - comparing multiple systems
  • Newcastle Waters (Barkly) - cell grazing
  • Douglas Daly Research Farm (Douglas Daly) - cell grazing
  • Victoria River Research Station (Victoria River District) - rangelands self-herding

The rangelands of northern Australia are well adapted to fire. Historically, regular fires helped maintain the balance between pasture and trees. However, fire is often excluded to preserve available feed, which has led to significant increases in woody vegetation across large areas of productive grazing country. Increases in tree and shrub density can lead to declines in pasture growth because trees compete with pasture for nutrients and water.

In contrast, some areas of less productive pastoral land is being burnt more frequently than in the past by wildfires, which can lead to soil erosion, higher greenhouse gas emissions and reduced biodiversity.

  • The department has been conducting fire research since 1993. Current and recent fire projects include:
  • Shruburn (commenced 1993) - optimal frequency and season of burning to control woody vegetation and maintain pasture condition
  • Alexandria (Barkly) - effects of fire frequency on pasture quality
  • Delamere (Victoria River District) - burning and wet season spelling demonstration
  • Newcastle Waters (Barkly) - using fire to control feathertop wiregrass

Since late 2011 the department has produced a quarterly bulletin that summarises the seasonal outlook, recent forage growth and current standing pasture biomass in each of the 11 pastoral districts of the NT. The Outlook can alert producers and industry advisers to issues such as low pasture levels, increasing drought risk and high fire risk. The Outlook is available as a free subscription service and is available from the departments publication page.

The department can provide information, technical support and training in grazing land management. Extension activities can be catered to the requests of individual stations and complement the short courses offered which include: the EDGE Network Grazing Land Management (GLM) course, the one-day Grazing Fundamentals workshop, Rangeland Management Courses for first-year stock-camp staff and the Barkly Herd Management Forum.

For more information contact the department.

Last updated: 17 December 2018

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