Tracking to boost sustainability

14 Dec, 2005 08:45 PM
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STATE-OF-THE-ART satellite technology is about to help northern beef producers improve land management and ensure long-term sustainability by better understanding cattle grazing behaviour.

Using collars on cattle fitted with global positioning system (GPS) radio telemetry, scientists from the CSIRO and Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries Queensland (DPIF) are using satellites to track the movement of cattle in the bush.

The aim of this new collaborative research project - conducted at Wambiana station, 60km south-east of Charters Towers - is to explain why cattle select some soil types and not others and how stocking rates affect this selection process.

The project on grazing selectivity adds value to a major grazing trial co-funded by DPIF and Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) at Wambiana.

Cattle selectively graze different parts of the landscape, leading to overuse and degradation of particular areas and a reduction in the land's long-term carrying capacity.

CSIRO livestock industries spokesman Dave Swain said the GPS collars would enable scientists to remotely track the movement of cattle without handling them.

"The collars are placed around the animal's neck, automatically logging its position to within five or 10m every hour," Dr Swain said.

"Monitoring where cattle are spending the majority of their time grazing will identify the particular soils they are attracted to and enable us to predict where they will graze in a large paddock."

The project at the Wambiana site is part of a long-term DPIF grazing trial established in 1997.

DPIF spokesman Peter O'Reagain said extremely detailed biophysical data including soil type, soil fertility and pasture composition, was being collected at Wambiana.

"This data, together with other complementary research, will be of enormous benefit to this project," Dr O'Reagain said.

"The results from the study will increase our understanding of grazing behaviour and assist producers in predicting where the heaviest grazing will occur."

Co-funded by MLA's Northern Beef Program, the project is designed to develop new grazing strategies to ensure the long-term ecological sustainability and economic viability of northern savannas grazing.

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