An initial trial in the Pilbara using the principles of Rangelands Self-Herding (RSH) has shown promising results.
At Yarrie Station near Marble Bar, manager Annabelle Coppin was keen to see if RSH principles could help evenly distribute grazing in a desired area on her property rather than an area near the river that was preferred by the cattle.
“We have a very big paddock with good grass in it and a water source, but the cattle don’t graze it as evenly as other areas,” Ms Coppin said.
“Our river is now entirely fenced off either side, which is excellent for management purposes, however, some country three kilometres from the banks is not utilised, even after we set watering points up out there and we have had difficulty getting cattle to walk out to this area,” she said.
Ms Coppin said in the past cattle had been trucked out there, held on the watering point and grazed out, but none stayed there longer than two days before heading back to the river.
When Dr Dean Revell and Bruce Manyard approached Yarrie Station, Ms Coppin outlined this issue and they explained their method of RSH.
The RSH project is supported by Rangelands NRM through funding from the Australia Government. It provides interested pastoralists with the opportunity to trial different strategies to work with grazing animal behaviour, their nutritional needs and preferences and the land to change grazing distribution.
“We didn’t do all they had recommended, but we did get a group of heifers accustomed to a supplement – of molasses and phosphorus – for a week in the yard so they knew what that was and they went through a weaner handling process,” Ms Coppin said.
“We then put a GPS collar on one and trucked them out to the area, walking them in a clover-leaf pattern, out and back to the water, out and back to the water over a period of five hours.”
During October 2014, the movement of the heifer with the tracking collar showed that the animals had chosen to stay around the ‘new’ water source and the supplement that was re-stocked weekly.
Ms Coppin said they stayed out there a good couple of months and were grazing really evenly and were very relaxed.
They chose to stay at the new water point, even though the river was just a few kilometres away, and to make use of the feed around that area with daily grazing circuits out and back from their ‘new home’, typically about 5-6 km loops.
“They were grazing more as a whole mob and I would say at least 70 per cent of the 100 stayed together and grazed. Then there were storms, and this behaviour stopped,” Ms Coppin said.
Ms Coppin was conscious that one trial may not scientifically prove that the principles work.
“I actually did it again the way we used to do it, to see if it was a fluke or not, and that didn’t work, the cattle ended back at the river with in a day [as per the diagram]. It takes a while to convince myself and I like to do things thoroughly,” she said.
“From the results we got, I’m definitely looking into some more of the messages Bruce and Dean are offering since the principles involve just tweaking, not a radical change.”
“Just the little things from the results we have so far is enough to keep going and it really could make some big changes.”
Ms Coppin said it’s very hard to change the instincts of animals when rain starts, so to convince them to stay after storms is a whole new ball game.
“A couple of months out there is great, so I’m happy with that for now, the next step is to get them to stay for at least six months of the year.”
More information about Rangelands Self-Herding can be found at www.rangelandswa.com.au
Image: Grazing patterns over about three weeks (at Yarrie Station) – normal vs RSH