Kimberley pastoralists gain a deeper understanding of animal behaviour

Pastoralists gained a deeper understanding of animal behaviour, the “nutritional wisdom” of grazing animals and the plants they graze and the new range of possibilities to change grazing management and improve rangeland condition and animal productivity at the Self-Shepherding workshop held in Broome this month.  

Fourteen pastoralists and twelve government agency and natural resource organisation staff from across the Kimberley spent a day and a half with internationally-renowned animal behaviour expert, Professor Fred Provenza from the USA, in Broome on 8-9 May.  

Supported by Rangelands NRM, through the Australian Government-funded Rangelands Self Shepherding project, and hosted by the West Kimberley LCDC, the workshop drew on Fred’s extensive research and local pastoralist experience on how animal behaviour connects animals, landscapes and humans, and its implications for animal productivity, land condition and even human health.  

Participants engaged in discussion with Fred on topics such as the ability of animals to learn how well they are meeting their specific nutritional requirements and to change foraging behaviours to seek more (or less) of certain nutrients.  

Primary and secondary compounds contained in plants influence grazing animal behaviour, which in turn influence how herds and individual animals can develop a particular grazing “culture”.  

This creates the opportunity for animals to learn efficiently and to develop new grazing “cultures” and behaviours; a process that livestock managers need to be actively involved in.  

Chris Henggeler of Kachana Station, south-west of Kununurra, said the workshop opened up new possibilities for extending production into areas that are currently not contributing to the industry.  

“Not only will this increase production options, but it could also pave the way for industry-players to provide environmental services in upper-catchment areas: water-retention, flood-mitigation, soil-stabilisation, fuel-control and building biodiversity.”  “We will, however, need to be convinced of the incentives to go through the required learning curve.”  “

There cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ solution in our diverse Kimberley environments, but we do need to take a closer look at what significance this knowledge has for our region,” Chris said.  

“As the large-scale ‘de-facto’-custodians of land that we are, this may be the opportunity we need to lift the pastoral image as landscape-managers. If we can get improved results with less infra-structure costs, simply by changing animal-behaviour, I know that I will be doing my homework.”  

Participants also heard from Dr Dean Revell and Bruce Maynard, who are coordinating a range of learning and trial/demonstration activities under the Rangelands Self Shepherding project.  

The project provides interested pastoralists with the opportunity to not only deepen their understanding of the concepts discussed during the workshop, but also to trial different strategies to work with grazing animal behaviour, their nutritional needs and preferences and the land to change grazing distribution.  

For further information on the workshop or the Rangelands Self Shepherding project, contact Dr Dean Revell, phone: 0408 904 948, or email.

Images: Top: Fred Provenza talks to workshop particpants in Broome (©K Andrews), Bottom: Fred Provenza catching some views outside in Broome (©D Revell)