Livestock and Pasture Management
A brief overview of livestock management on small rural properties in South West WA.
John Karlsson, BVSc, BSc (Genetics)
This is a brief overview of livestock management, particularly concentrating on sheep, showing an annual cycle and focusing on an annual pasture system.
In this production system the main animal health (welfare) issues are:
In the summer/autumn period: Nutrition and in some situations water quality and availability. Some perennial pastures can also support a Haemonchus worm challenge.
In the winter/spring period: Gastro-Intestinal Parasites (Worms).
In the spring/summer period: Potentially blowflies, especially with ‘woolly’ sheep.
Overall farm animal grazing considerations;
Terrain and soil type
If the land is steep be aware of potential secondary soil erosion linked to stocking rate, paddock design and pasture type.
Sandy and ‘light’ soil types will generally only support lower stocking rates. Prone to both water and wind erosion.
Water quality and availability
In general sheep, especially non-breeding (‘dry’) adults have some tolerance to salt.
However, to be safe test water salinity periodically over summer and autumn. As an example, 2000 ppm in tds (Total Dissolved Solids) leads to a 50 - 80% increase in water intake.
If the supply is via tanks or mains ensure monitoring, especially if you are an absentee. In this case organise for someone to monitor the water for you.
In the Summertime budget for 4-8 litres/head/day (l/h/d) for dry adults - a bit less if shade and shelter are available. See the detailed ‘Drinking Rates’ spreadsheet.
Stock handling & biosecurity
Good fencing is required both to keep stock confined as well as exclude stray animals. There are species and breed differences in fencing requirements. If stray dogs are an issue, consider extra electric wires. Yards are required to perform basic husbandry requirements including veterinary treatments. Also consider a loading ramp.
Shelter in the form of ‘Natural’ vegetation or ‘Artificial’ shelters are desirable. Watch how stock seek shade or shelter at either end of extreme weather conditions.
Before starting the livestock operation, the property owner must apply for an official registration in the NLIS, see: National Livestock Identification System (NLIS); www.nils.com.au
This will allow for a property-unique individual animal identification and documentation, which is required when animals leave the property (see below).
Also check on Local Government requirements for land and livestock management in local ‘Town Planning Schemes (TPS). For Bridgetown Greenbushes Shire TPS3 & TPS4. (‘Rural Use or Rural Pursuit’).
At first glance, most small operations might consider so called ‘easy care’ breeds such as the shedding breeds, like Dorpers. However, for long-term sustainability it would be highly desirable that they consider ‘robust’ sheep types. This implies adaptation to local environmental conditions, including resistant to various endemic challenges such asparasites. Such selection is difficult by ‘casual’ visual assessments. The variability for these traits is expressed both between and within breeds. A prime example is parasite resistancewith testing-based information available in some sectors of the industry. Facilitate ‘clean and
green’ production, such as rotational grazing. might have pasture growth advantages it is more complicated with respect to GI Parasites.
Having a self-replacing flock that breeds its own replacement ewes has advantages in biosecurity and some local selection, through not introducing outside ewes onto the property. However, there will be a need to introduce new rams occasionally to prevent in-breeding. Inbreeding in a small flock can be minimised by only using the rams for two years.
Ram supplier can lease out a ram for mating if trusting biosecurity status.
‘Ram Circle’. Selected rams are rotated around properties each two years.
The ultimate measure of nutrition is the animals’ performance. In juvenile animals, growth rates can range from 175 to 500 gm/day depending on breed and age. Performance can also be measured as body condition score (CS). The condition of adults can be measured by body weight (BW) as well as CS. For small operations, it might be difficult to justify weighing scales. However, CS is a good proxy.
The subjective assessment of CS is done on a 1 to 5 scale. However, the interpretation of the result needs to be understood. For CS 1 is lowest and undesirable because it means the animal has no fat reserves and is not viable. At the other end of the scale CS5 is obese and will also have fitness problems. Aim for the range of 2.5 to 3.5, and CS3 for good fertility.
DPIRD provides pictorial CS charts https://www.dpird.wa.gov.au.
On an annual basis, combine CS monitoring with nutrition management.
In an annual pastures system, grasses provide good early growth and quality following the ‘break of the season’. However, at pasture senescence their quality declines to suboptimal levels especially for young animals. Therefore, it is desirable to have a good component of legumes (sub clover etc.) in the pasture mix as this provides higher crude protein and digestibility.
In the summer-autumn period, some additional supplementary feed is generally required.
This can range from processed feed to lupins, grain, silage and hay. Also consider the options of incorporating a range of potential fodder trees or shrubs in your pastures. The dual benefits from these are that they provide shelter, in some situations water table management and for some harvesting for timber (I and my sheep like Oaks).
Stocking Rate will be determined by local terrain, soil fertility, pasture quality and quantity, management experience as well as official conditions especially in the peri-urban areas. To play it safe start off at a ‘conservative’ rate and gradually increase to the optimal rate for your property. For this area SR can range from 3 to 7 DSE/ha. The reference point is a 45-50 kg wether or dry ewe with DSE of 1, a lactating 50 kg ewe has a DSE of 1.5. For more examples see the attached ‘Animal DSE for the calculation of stocking rates’.
It is desirable to make seasonal pasture assessments both in terms of quantity and quality, (known as ‘Food On Offer’ or ‘FOO’) for sheep performance as well as soil conservation. In scientific terms FOO is kg of dry plant material per ha. Several samples are required per paddock to get an average, the samples are weighed and then oven-dried to a final weight.
This is clearly too complicated for general monitoring. Approximations have been derived and expressed as picture charts trying to combine density and plant height (But requires a bit of experience).
Potentially a big topic. At the National level, the three most costly endemic sheep diseases are: Gastro-Intestinal Parasites (worms) ($400m/yr), Blowflies (Myiasis) ($200m/yr) and Lice ($100m/yr). The last two categories reflect the dominance of merino sheep (approximately 80% in WA). However, worms effect all sheep in all environments globally.
In terms of worm control, too much reliance on chemicals (anthelmintics or drenches) has resulted in selection for drench resistance. Much research has focused on sheep and pasture management as well as optimum drench utilisation. There is also an increasing level of research on genetic selection for worm resistance in the sheep (my area of interest).
Drenching will result in some selection for anthelmintic resistance. How can this be reduced?
Of the non-genetic options: 1. Selective drenching based on monitoring. 2. Rotational use of effective active drench groups at least on an annual basis. NB for this, producers need to look at the name of the active ingredient(s) in small print on drench label and not the big print brand name.
The challenge for small flocks is to obtain small quantities of different drench groups.
There are several categories: -
1. Native plants, mainly Gastrolobiums and Oxylobiums - the ‘pea-flowers. Native to this area. Therefore, check any native bush in the stock paddock as well as along fencelines.
2. Introduced weeds such as ‘Patterson’s Curse’, which stand out with their purple flowers.
3. Introduced pasture species with secondary fungal pathogens such as phalaris and ryegrass.
4. Bluegreen algae, small single cell algae. More common in shallow dams
5. Lupin and secondary infestation with pathogenic fungus (Lupinosis).
For more information on these refer to the DPIRD website (www.dpird.wa.gov.au)
Other husbandry practices;
1. Annual vaccination (3in1 to 6in1 plus trace minerals), primarily covering the Clostridial diseases (Enterotoxaemia, Tetanus etc.) also Caseous lymphadenitis.
2. For grazing animals, this area is deficient in Selenium (Se) and on sandy soils also Cobalt (Co). Young growing lambs should be supplemented with these minerals, starting with a pre-lambing ewe booster vaccination containing Se. Then vaccinate the lamb at lamb marking with a booster at weaning. After that sheep should receive annual boosters.
NB: For optimum pasture growth the soil should be tested and corrected for other potential trace mineral deficiencies especially Copper, Molybdenum and Zinc (Cu, Mo, Zn).
If leasing to another operator or agisting their livestock;
Have a contract signed by both parties because;
a) The Property owner is responsible for land management and must be able to have the livestock removed before they start to cause soil erosion and degradation.
b) The Registered stock owner is responsible for animal welfare although the stock owner may not be a close neighbour and may require the landowner to agree to conduct regular livestock monitoring and report to the stock owner.
Registration – Brands Office
Livestock – Sheep; feed, FOO, CS charts
- Search: ‘Agistment for small landholders’
- Search: ‘WaterWise Livestock’
National Livestock Identification System (NLIS); www.nils.com.au
For Property & individual Sheep Identification;
1. Registered Earmark; male right ear & female left ear
2. Tags in opposite ear to earmark; 8-year colour rotation (2018 Orange),
registered brand &/or PIC.
3. Brought in sheep; Additional Pink Tag in earmark ear.
For your property specific annual ear tags, there are several manufacturers and suppliers:
Elders & others do a small landholders pack holding 10 of each colour
A & A Branding Co.
Bridgetown Greenbushes Shire;
Town Planning Schemes, No3 & No4
‘Rural Use or Rural Pursuit’
Cheryl Hamence, the Bridgetown-Greenbushes Community Landcare Officer, provides a free water testing service (pH and salinity). Her office is in the Bridgetown Visitors Centre.
Livestock Management Essentials
John Lucey, 29 July 2017
Livestock can be personally and financially rewarding but before getting into beef or sheep, or other livestock, small landholders need to consider whether you and your property are ready for the responsibility and time commitment that goes with livestock ownership. Determine your motivation for wanting to run livestock such as pasture management, financial gain or personal pleasure. Consider your level of livestock knowledge, skills and time available, your property’s infrastructure such as yards and fences, feed availability and the health and regulatory responsibilities.
If you would like a few livestock to control pastures and to provide meat for your family, a small number of low maintenance, non-breeding beef steers or sheep wethers would be suitable. If your ambition is to breed cattle or sheep for profit, remember significant time, money, attention to health and nutrition issues and knowledge is needed for it to be successful.
If time is short and livestock and pasture husbandry skills are low, non-breeding (‘dry’) cattle bought and sold each year is the simplest enterprise. The major advantage of the dry cattle enterprise is its simplicity for increasing or decreasing numbers as pasture availability increases and decreases with seasons and rainfall. The farm is easily destocked as feed levels decline and only restocked after sufficient rain has rebuilt the pasture bank. This means there is no stress on the paddock ecosystem, animal welfare is maintained and costly supplementary feed is not necessary to make or buy. Marketing is relatively simple as all stock can be easily sold through local livestock agents.
A nutrient is a substance that provides nourishment or sustenance. The five broad categories of nutrients required by livestock are water, energy, protein, minerals and vitamins. Of these, as long as there is adequate water available, it is generally energy that is the most limiting in livestock performance. Livestock use energy for maintenance, growth, pregnancy and lactation.
It is essential to compare the feed requirements of your intended livestock with your property’s grazing capabilities. The feed requirements of cattle and sheep vary depending on their size, age and class (e.g. whether they are steers, heifers, bulls, wether sheep or ewes). Cows and ewes carrying calves or lambs need significantly more feed than dry, non-lactating livestock.
Stocking rates are the numbers of livestock, e.g. sheep, cattle, horses or any other type of animal that can consistently be kept on an area of pasture all year round with minor additional feed and without causing environmental degradation so that the soil will be protected and the land use can be sustained.
Stocking rates are measured by Dry Sheep Equivalents (DSE) which are the number of adult sheep (50 kg wethers) that can be sustained on each hectare all year round. The base stocking rate is the number of DSE that would apply to a small holding with the lowest level of pasture management in an average year. Stocking rates are also influenced by feeding patterns, animal weight, foot structure and activity.
Different classes of livestock eg lactating versus dry non-lactating females have different energy requirements and therefore different DSE values. Using standard DSE for different stock classes allows you to establish a stocking rate on your property that is sustainable. (Please see the accompanying ‘Animal DSE for the calculation of stocking rates’)
Overstocking leads to heavy reliance on hand feeding and increased levels of both internal and external parasite infestations resulting in poor weight gains. It will also likely result in degraded pastures which cannot grow to their potential which further compounds the problem of providing adequate nutrition.
Feed intake is the most important factor influencing the level of nutrient supplied to the animal. Intake is usually referred to in terms of dry matter (i.e. the non-water component of feed). This term refers to the weight of feed less its moisture content (water, although a vital element for animals, has no nutritional value). Dry matter intake is often expressed as a percentage of body weight, e.g. a 400 kg steer eating 10 kg of dry matter has a dry matter intake of 2.5% of body weight.
Feed, whether pasture, hay, grain or manufactured by-products, varies considerably in moisture content. For this reason, the feed in its dry matter form is used to facilitate nutritional comparisons between fodders (or when formulating rations).
A number of factors influence dry matter feed intake with quality (digestibility) of the diet having the most impact.
Low quality diets, e.g. dry summer feed, will only allow intakes around 1.5% of body weight while livestock on high quality pasture diets will consume up to 3.0% of body weight. Low level protein supplementation will increase the intake of poor quality low protein diets by up to 30%.
Pasture and Grazing Management
Sigmoid pattern of grass regrowth, showing leaf regrowth stage of ryegrass plants across 3 basic phases
One of the important skills in any grazing enterprise is to manage your pastures in a way which optimises pasture growth to meet the nutritional needs of livestock. A system of rotational grazing serves this purpose best. Here animals are moved regularly to a new paddock/area allowing pasture time to recover and produce new growth before they return in 4-5 weeks. If you don’t have enough paddocks this can still be achieved by using strip grazing where an electric fencing tape provides temporary fencing to restrict the area where the livestock can graze.
At the break of the season it is important to resist the temptation to graze the new “green pick”. Restrict your livestock to a sacrifice area until the majority of the other paddocks have reached the 2 ryegrass leaf stage. Your first grazing should be quick to take the top out of the pasture to encourage tillering and to set the pastures up for grazing at the 3-leaf stage.
More on grazing systems
Grazing systems range from set-stocking and rotational grazing. With set-stocking, animals remain in one paddock for the whole year and the pasture receives no rest resulting in a build-up of weeds and a reduction in pasture quality as animals selectively feed on the more palatable pasture species and leave the unpalatable weeds, which in turn spread. High inputs of fertiliser, herbicide and supplementary feeding may be needed to maintain pasture productivity.
In contrast, rotational grazing involves the movement of stock through a series of paddock/areas allowing paddocks to ‘rest’ and regenerate between grazing leading to improved productivity, maintaining desirable pasture species and reduced land degradation. Rotational grazing also allows you to decide when and for how long a pasture will be grazed and rested.
Ideally, if space permits, you want to divide your pasture into at least four smaller paddocks and rotate a single group of animals through these four paddocks. This allows at least three paddocks to rest and recover from grazing and there will be less weeds in your pasture mix as the stock will graze everything down to 5cm before you move them to the next paddock. You can permanently fence the areas or use temporary electric fencing to restrict stock movement. The timing of each rotation will vary throughout the year but as a rule of thumb stock should be moved every 4 weeks when pasture plant height is 5cm, and returned when height is 12cm. If the plant stubble is grazed below 5cm, the plant will struggle to survive and regrow. Grazing areas of weed species during seed set, and resting desirable species to encourage seed production will also assist in maintaining pasture quality.
Set-stocking enables the animal to control where, when and which plants it eats, resulting in low pasture utilisation whereas the higher grazing pressure of rotational grazing means the animals have less ability to choose resulting in higher pasture utilisation.
Fertiliser and Soil Testing
Soil testing for major nutrients of Phosphorous, Potassium, Sulphur and soil pH (acidity or alkalinity) is desirable to ensure adequate soil nutrition to support your property’s potential pasture growth. Soil pH testing kits are cheap and are available at most rural suppliers and easy to use. Soil samples for soil nutrient content are normally collected in summer or autumn and then sent to laboratories for analysis with the results forming the basis of fertiliser decisions. The optimum soil pH is 5.8 - 6.5 measured in water; landowners should soil test to identify if soil pH is below this level and requires action (generally the application of lime).
Apply nutrients at a strategic time. To avoid leaching of major nutrients apply them at the best time to enhance plant uptake. If the nutrients are applied only once, application at 3–4 weeks after germination is the best time for both pasture and the environment.
The most common welfare problem in livestock on smallholdings is poor nutrition which is usually caused by overstocking - hence the importance of good pasture and grazing management.
Whenever you use drenches, vaccines or other chemicals, always read the label and, in particular, follow the instructions about dosage rates and withholding periods. Don’t assume that they are the same for all types of drench, vaccine etc. Drenching should only be carried out when necessary, as worms can become resistant to the drench if it is used indiscriminately, making control more difficult. Good nutrition can help sheep overcome the effects of worms, and develop a natural resistance to worms.
There are two major types of worms that affect sheep in Western Australia (WA); barber’s pole and scour worms.
The adult worm lays eggs in the digestive system of the sheep. The eggs pass out of the sheep and hatch as larvae in the pasture, and from here they are ingested by the sheep through grazing, become adult worms, and the cycle begins again. Worms can cause damage to the lining of the gut, poor appetite, diarrhoea (scour worms), or weakness and death due to blood depletion (barber’s pole worm).
Livestock owners should consider rotationally grazing their animals as part of their worm prevention strategy. By moving sheep from one paddock to the next any worm eggs which have been expelled by the sheep and hatched will be less likely to survive until the paddock is grazed again. So less worms are picked up.
When the livestock first arrive on your property, give them a quarantine drench to minimise the risk of bringing a worm problem onto the place. Unless you know the vaccination history of the livestock, assume they have had no vaccination at all. This means a “5 in 1” or “6 in 1” vaccination upon arrival and a follow up four to six weeks later and then annual boosters thereafter are sufficient to give ongoing immunity. If you give your cows/ewes their annual shot around 4 weeks before calving/lambing, the calves/lambs will also have some immunity when they are born.
You should drench your adult sheep at least once a year and move them onto clean pasture straight after the drench. Summer drenching programs provide good worm control in beef yearlings under Western Australian conditions. Weaner cattle remain the most vulnerable animals to parasites on the farm. Beef cows and calves rarely suffer from worm parasitism before weaning and routine treatment is not usually warranted.
Cattle should be vaccinated with a 5 in 1 or 6 in 1 vaccine to protect against clostridial, reproductive and respiratory diseases as well as calf scours, bovine ephemeral fever and pinkeye. Calves should be vaccinated from 6 weeks of age and given a booster 4-6 weeks later to ensure sufficient immunity. Stock that have not been vaccinated previously or vaccination history is unknown should be given two doses 4 to 6 weeks apart. An annual booster should be given to animals to ensure continued immunity. Annual boosters should be administered 4 weeks prior to calving to ensure that immunity is passed onto the new born calf via colostrum.
Animal Identification and Movement Responsibilities
Western Australia has a comprehensive, mandatory livestock identification and ownership system. All livestock owners within WA must be registered and their stock identified in accordance with the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management (Identification and Movement of Stock and Apiaries) Regulations 2013 (BAM (IMSA) Regulations). All ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats, deer, bison, buffalo), equines (horses, mules), South American camelids (alpaca, llama) and pigs (including miniature pigs), whether kept as pets or for commercial purposes, are considered livestock under the BAM (IMSA) Regulations and registration as an owner is necessary.
Register with the Registrar of Stock, PO Box 1231, Bunbury, WA 6231; Tel: 08 9780 6207; email@example.com.
Registered owners are issued with a Property Identification Code (PIC) card which outlines the properties they have registered to run stock on and the identifiers they may need to identify their stock (e.g. their stock brand, earmark or pig tattoo). Cattle should be earmarked (two notches out of one ear) or fire or freeze branded (two letters and one number on the left shoulder) and have a National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) electronic eartag. Sheep require a year of birth colour coded NLIS ear tag. The NLIS has been introduced to enable the rapid tracing of animals in the event of a major disease outbreak or the contamination of meat or dairy product by pesticides. NLIS is a permanent, whole-of-life identification that enables animals to be tracked from property of birth to slaughter. Any cattle or sheep leaving your property must have an NLIS device, even if they will be returning.
When you purchase stock, you or your agent need to notify the NLIS database ( ) within 48 hours that the cattle/sheep are now located on your property, unless you purchase them from a saleyard where it will be done for you.
Any cattle being transported must also be accompanied by a National Vendor Declaration (NVD) waybill. NVD-waybills are available by becoming accredited with the Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) program. The LPA can be contacted on 1800 683 111.
Biosecurity means the protection of animals, plants, the environment and people’s health from harmful diseases and pests. If you run livestock, whether on a small scale or commercially, you need a biosecurity plan. An on-farm biosecurity plan is a requirement for maintaining a Johne’s Beef Assurance Score (J-BAS) and will be a requirement for the LPA program in the future. This is to show that your property and your livestock are free of the lasting condition known as Johne’s Disease.
A biosecurity plan should cover the steps you would take when bringing animals onto your property, managing the biosecurity risks already present on your property and the steps you would take when moving animals off your property.
Ask for documentary evidence of the livestock’s history and health status (such as a national vendor declaration (NVD)/waybill, a National Sheep Health Statement (NSHS) or a PigPass-NVD). You should be able to find out vaccination status, recent worm and lice treatments and any property history of diseases such as footrot, Johne’s disease or ovine brucellosis.
A biosecurity plan will cover a wide range of activities and include plans to keep out and/or manage various diseases, which are endemic (already present in Australia), exotic (not present in Australia) or new diseases. The plan should anticipate disease and pest risks and provide specific instructions on measures to minimise or eliminate potential problems.
The plan should note how often you will observe animals for signs of ill-health. The frequency of observations may increase during anticipated higher risk periods, such as during lambing or calving or when animals are put onto a new ration. The plan should be continuously consulted and reviewed.
Local stock agents, rural suppliers and farming neighbours are a great source of information for smallholders new to livestock ownership.