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Cell Grazing for Better Productivity and Carbon Sequestration

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Douglas Daly Research Farm, Research Project
Cell Grazing for Better Productivity and Carbon Sequestration
(Tim Schatz, Peter Shotton and David Ffoulkes)

Trial Updates

Time-controlled or cell grazing management systems for beef production are claimed to improve animal and pasture production as well as increase soil carbon sequestration when compared with set stocked continuous grazing systems. The aim of this project is to verify these claims that if true would lead to increased profitability and provide a potential source of extra income for producers under a carbon trading scheme.

The five-year cell grazing project commenced at Douglas Daly Research Farm in September 2009 to determine whether cell grazing management systems are better than continuous grazing of improved tropical pastures, in terms of the following outputs:

  • Improved beef production per hectare.
  • Improved pasture fertility and productivity.
  • Increased soil carbon uptake and storage.
  • More profitable and sustainable grazing system.

The project site is divided into a lattice of 32 x 6 hectare uniform Buffel pasture paddocks on sandy Blain soils. 26 paddocks will be used for cell grazing and the remaining paddocks will used for continuous grazing at two stocking rates (SR) with 3 replicate paddocks for each SR (see Figure 1 below)

Brahman weaner steers (average 6 months of age and weighing 200 kg) will be grazed on the project site for a period of one year before being turned off and replaced by another similar group for the following year. The performance of 5 separate groups of animals will be assessed over a period of 5 years.

Figure 1: Experimental design showing paddocks with continuous grazing treatments set stocked (SS) at 1.3 and 1.5 hd/ha (3 replicates) versus cell grazing (CG) at 1.5 hd/ha. (Green arrows show approx. rotation path of cell herd)

Figure 1

A total of 285 animals are allocated to treatments as follows:

  • Cell Grazing (CG): 234 head (*see note below).
  • Set Stocked (SS – lower SR): 24 head.
  • Set Stocked (SS – higher SR): 27 head (SS).

*Note that in the first year of the trial a lower stocking rate is being used for the CG treatment (208 head) with the intension of increasing this if assessed to be sustainable.

The paddock movements for the cell grazing treatment depend on pasture condition and season. The regime will be will approximately as follows:

  • Early Wet (Nov-Dec):             60 days rest period; cattle moved very 2-3 days.
  • Mid/Late Wet (Jan-Mar):       25 days rest period; cattle moved daily.
  • Dry Season (Apr-Oct):           90 day rest period; cattle moved every 3-5 days.

The performance of cattle is to be recorded every 3 months. In addition, fasted live weights will be recorded at the beginning and end of the year, as well as fat depth.
An automated ‘walk-over-weighing’ system will be incorporated into the trial to look at the potential of this technology as a management tool for cell grazing systems.

Other measurements include pasture assessment (twice annually) and analysis of soil carbon at the start and finish of the project.

Trial Updates

September 2009

  • Animals weighed, ranked and allocated to set stocked and cell grazing treatments on the project site. Average weight of animals in each treatment was 190 kg.
  • Preliminary soil sampling of 10-30 cm profile was conducted for bulk density and organic carbon.
  • Pasture assessment using Botanal® methodology was carried out to assess dry matter (DM) availability and species composition of each paddock. Pasture availability averaged 3.3 tonne DM/ha and ranged from 2.2 - 4.1tonnes between paddocks.

October 2009

  • Analysis of soil samples indicate that the project area sub-soil has an organic carbon content of 0.25% (sd=0.06) and a C:N ratio of 10 (sd=0.7). This compares with 0.4% soil organic carbon and C:N ratio of 17 in pre-cleared Blain soils that were characterised by Day KJ (1977).
  • Benchmarking of soil organic carbon in the project soil profile (up to 1 m) will be undertaken from 25 randomly selected paddock cells. 

March 2010

  • Benchmark analysis of organic carbon content in the soil profiles across the project area were 0.50% (0-10 cm), 0.28% (10-30 cm), 0.18% (30-60 cm) and 0.12% (60-100cm).
  • Animals weight gains in the cell grazing treatment were low during the first 3 months of the trial (Nov-Jan) compared with the control group (5.5 vs. 29 kg/head). At the time of weighing it was noticed that the larger cell herd had an acute buffalo fly problem so all animals were treated with insecticide eartags. At the March weighing, all treatment groups had similar live weight gains (70 kg/head). 

April 2010

  • Dr Ram Dalal (Principal Research Scientist, DERM, Qld) visited the project site in mid-April and recommended changes to the soil sampling protocol. He also suggested sampling for soil organic carbon and nitrogen at the end of the wet season (April) as well as the end of the dry season (Sept).




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