Workshop builds healthier animals and better production

[May 2013]

Healthy animals and healthy landscapes for a healthy business was the topic of the last month’s workshops coordinated by Rangelands NRM and held in Geraldton and at the DeGrey Station in the Pilbara.

The two day workshops, led by Dr Fred Provenza, Professor Emeritus of Utah State University and leading authority on animal feeding behaviour, covered the principles and research on diet selection by livestock.

Dr Dean Revell, Principal Scientist at CSIRO in Perth provided attendees with information on the potentials of Australian shrub species for grazing systems and landscape health.

The DeGrey workshop was attended by 30 people including station staff from the Pilbara and Kimberley, and Ashburton Aboriginal Corporation staff and was followed by two days of hands on training using Low Stress Stock handling methods with Bruce Maynard to de-stress animals so that they will eat a wider range of plant species.

The Geraldton workshop was attended by 31 people, comprising pastoralists from Carnarvon, grass farmers from across the south-west agricultural region, agency staff and Geraldton community members.

Rangelands NRM Sustainable Rangelands Projects Manager Tim Wiley said that attendees learnt that many plants contain secondary compounds that affect animal health and feed digestions and while some of these compounds may be toxic at high levels in the diet, they may be beneficial at low levels.

“Animals can be encouraged to eat new plants by using low stress stock handling methods and can learn that some plants can make them feel better, and once learned they will select these plants to self-medicate.”

Positive effects can include gut worm control, reduced methane emissions, increased digestibility and binding/neutralising other toxic compounds.

“Having a greater variety of plants in the diet leads to healthier animals and increased animal production,” he said.

More diverse grazing by animals has environmental benefits as well, as there is less pressure on the preferred plant species and more on plants that are traditionally avoided and grazing behaviour can be used to encourage stock to eat and control weeds.

Mr Wiley said the workshop stimulated considerable discussion with the pastoralists.

“Many were interested in trying these new approaches on their own properties and the DeGrey LCDC will investigate running their own trials using these principles with support from RNRM and CSIRO to test these innovative approaches.”