Effects of grazing method and fertiliser inputs on the productivity and sustainability of phalaris-based pastures in Western Victoria
Chapman, D.F., McCaskill, M.R., Quigley, P.E., Thompson, A.N., Graham, J.F., Borg, D., Lamb, J., Kearney, G., Saul, G.R. and Clark, S.G. (2003) Effects of grazing method and fertiliser inputs on the productivity and sustainability of phalaris-based pastures in Western Victoria. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture, 43 (8). pp. 785-798.
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The effects of combinations of different fertiliser rates and grazing methods applied to phalaris-based pastures on an acid, saline, yellow sodosol on the Dundas Tablelands of western Victoria (mean annual rainfall 623 mm) were measured from 1997 to 2000. The objective was to help identify management systems that improve phalaris growth and persistence, water use, and animal production, and thereby the productivity and sustainability of grazing systems. Pastures were either set stocked with low [mean 6.4 kg phosphorus (P)/ha.year] or high (mean 25 kg P/ha.year) fertiliser rates, or rotationally grazed with high fertiliser (mean 25 kg P/ha.year). Rotational grazing was implemented as either a simple '4-paddock' system (fixed rotation length), or a more intensive system where rotation length varied with pasture growth rate. Unreplicated paddocks of volunteer pasture (dominated by onion grass and annual grass weeds) receiving an average of 8 kg P/ha.year were also monitored. All treatments were stocked with spring-lambing Merino ewes. Stocking rate was an emergent property of each treatment, and was driven by pasture quality and availability.
Total pasture herbage accumulation ranged from 7150 to 9750 kg DM/ha.year and was significantly lower on the set-stocked, low-fertility treatment than on all other treatments. A significant treatment.day effect in the spline analysis of herbage mass was explained by a trend toward higher pasture mass in the rotationally grazed treatments than set-stocked treatments from the break of season until mid-spring. Rotational grazing led to significantly higher phalaris herbage accumulation than set stocking (mean 3680 v. 2120 kg DM/ha.year), but significantly lower subterranean clover herbage accumulation (1440 v. 2490 kg DM/ha.year). Despite the stronger growth of deep-rooted phalaris in the rotationally grazed treatments, maximum soil water deficits at the end of summer differed only slightly between treatments, with the difference between driest and wettest treatments amounting to only 14 mm. Summer growth of phalaris was apparently insufficient to generate significant differences in soil water extraction at depth, even when phalaris content was increased by rotational grazing, and re-wetting of the soil profile occurred at a similar rate for all treatments. Rotationally grazed treatments supported higher stocking rates than set-stocked treatments at high fertiliser rates (mean 14.9 v. 13.7 ewes/ha), but apparent losses in pasture feeding value due to lower legume content under rotational grazing meant that there were few significant differences between treatments in lamb production per hectare.
The experiment showed that grazing method can have a substantial and rapid effect on pasture botanical composition. There are clear opportunities for producers to use temporal and spatial combinations of set stocking and rotational grazing to manipulate herbage mass and pasture composition within broad target ranges for achieving both animal production (e.g. high per-head animal performance) and sustainability (e.g. persistence of perennial grasses) objectives. Rigid application of either set stocking or rotational grazing imposes limitations on both pasture and animal production, and neither grazing method will optimise system performance under all conditions. The experiment also demonstrated that management and land-use changes that have much greater potential to increase water use than those examined here will be needed to ensure the sustainability of pasture systems in the high rainfall zone of western Victoria.
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